It’s one of the first things we learn in school: when you do something wrong, say you’re sorry. But once we’ve put away childish things, apologizing can sometimes make us look weak instead of accountable. So should you say you’re sorry at work, or maintain your power position?
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Let’s look at the arguments.
Argument No. 1: Saying sorry (at least, saying sorry too much) makes you look weak.
Everyone has worked with that person — usually, it must be said, a female person — who apologizes so often, it seems more like she’s apologizing for being in the room than for committing any specific infraction.
“[W]omen may sometimes be over-attuned, apologizing for perceived offenses that other people do not find offensive or even notice,” writes Juliana Breines at Psychology Today. “It may just come down to subjective judgment — that is, neither gender is right or wrong. But sometimes social attunement can cross a line into over-apology and become self-destructive.”
Argument No. 2: Never saying sorry makes you look like a jerk, hurting your career and the productivity of your department.
How do you feel about co-workers who never admit when they’re wrong? Probably, you’re pretty annoyed with them, much of the time; worse, you likely don’t perceive them as being very powerful and secure.
“Taking responsibility for what went wrong doesn’t put you in an underling position; it puts you in the power position, because then you have the power to manage the situation,” writes Lisa Earle McLeod, author of The Triangle of Truth, in a column on The Huffington Post.
The Three Bears Approach
The obvious solution is to look for an answer that’s “just right.” In other words, take responsibility for your actions, come up with solutions — and don’t lean on the phrase “I’m sorry” more than you have to. You’ll look more powerful if you’re accountable, and more confident if you don’t over-apologize.
Best of all, you’ll be a person who makes things happen. And that’s the best possible co-worker, boss, or report to have.
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