I was running a leadership workshop the other day and one woman, I’m going to call her Donna stood out for the wrong reason, she apologised 5 times in the first two hours of the workshop.
First, she was late arriving by 5 mins. Now I’m sure we are both aligned here, we all want people to turn up to events on time, no one wants to be kept waiting but she wasn’t the only one to arrive at that time, Sydney’s traffic was particularly awful that day, but she was the only one to apologise. That’s OK I hear you say; she is being polite… and yes, I agree, but so the day went on.
During the first session of the day, we were discussing the importance of vulnerability as a leader, and there was a strong push back particularly from some of the men in the room.
“Sorry, can I say something…” Donna said to join in the conversation shortly followed by
“Sorry for interrupting but…” then
“Sorry to ask, but…”
And then the classic one was as Donna was walking to the flipchart, I changed directions as to where I was going in the room, and I bumped into Donna.
“Oh sorry,” said Donna.
You get the picture. I had a chat with Donna at lunchtime, and she was genuinely surprised by the number of times she had apologised, “I had no idea” she said.
For Donna ‘sorry’ had become a filler word to use almost to get her conversations started, it was a habit, something she, like most of us, had no doubt been conditioned to say as a child.
And it’s cultural, I grew up in the UK, and we English are known for excessive apologising, one event I have never lived down in my family archives was the time I walked into a lamppost and apologised to the lamppost. (The lamppost was fine by the way, I had a massive bruise on my forehead, but my family nevertheless thought the apology was hilarious).
We should absolutely apologise for things we have done wrong; these messages should be delivered with sincerity and action.
The challenge is when we become compulsive with our apologising, they make us appear weaker, particularly at work and in our personal relationships.
These were the suggestions I gave Donna.
If you are a couple of minutes late, instead of saying sorry say,
“thank you for waiting’”
In group discussions when you want to join in use.
“Another point of view to consider…”
“I’d like to expand on that…”
“What about considering….”
If you want to complain about something instead of starting with “I’m sorry”. Start off with “thank you for listening. I want to talk to you about…”
And when someone bumps into you simply smile and say “hello” they’ll feel much less awkward.
In the afternoon session Donna only made one ‘sorry’ we smiled at each other.
These habits are tough to spot in ourselves; they are habits, after all, we do them without thinking. If you know a beautiful woman who has this habit herself, pass these suggestions on to her, it’s a simple way to help her become more compelling in her conversations.