How Reflexively Apologizing for Everything All the Time Undermines Your Career
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I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.
I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn't really know what to expect.
Youth takes charge.
I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.
I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled. She then paused and said to me, very directly, "But you have to stop apologizing. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job."
I didn't know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, "Umm, I'm sorry?" But instead I immediately decided to be more cognizant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologizing. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.
In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue, “To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologizing.”
Topic of debate.
I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington Post, Time, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologize; others criticize those who are criticizing women who apologize. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I'm constantly telling the people I manage that by apologizing they give up a lot of their power.
Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologize for doing your job. If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for.
That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.