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“Sorry, so Sorry”

How apologising can undermine and disempower you. 

“He’s so incompetent! I’m afraid I’m going to have to give him a formal warning.”
“If only I could have helped her to be less difficult.”
“I felt so sorry for that person doing today’s presentation.”
“Sorry, I won’t be able to do that for you until next week.”

There’s an apology behind all of these well-intentioned thoughts, and it is a burden that disempowers.

Let me explain.

Esther (not her real name) is a highly talented scientist and senior manager in an Australian corporation. Her Asian culture and background help to make the word ‘sorry’ part of her wallpaper – constantly present but unnoticed. 

I did notice. I made the observation and asked if she was aware how often she apologised for things that were not her responsibility. Once she thought about it, she quickly realised how much this would be undermining her presence and authority in her current position. So she decided to cut it out. 

We agreed that she would journal any occasions when she said sorry inappropriately between our meetings. A month later and it had only happened twice – and boy, was she annoyed with herself each time! 

So what? 

A total mindset reboot, for one thing. Esther reported a huge boost in her self confidence and ability to assert. A significant change in the quality of key relationships, with staff, managers and even at home. Easier, better outcomes. And above all perhaps, a sense of release – release from feeling responsible for everyone else’s incompetence, behaviour and/or misfortune. Fabulous.

Today’s Experiment: 

What do you tend to apologise for (out loud or just in your head), when it’s not really your responsibility? 

Grab a notepad (paper or keyboard variety) and start a ‘Sorry’ page. Journal every time it happens so that you become super aware of doing it. As a minimum, note down –

What did I say or think?
Was an apology actually justified? 

And after a week or two, notice if anything has changed …
Hugh Todd
11 July, 2012