Sorry, Not Sorry

“Is it too late now to say sorry?” - Justin Bieber

There is a problem in today’s workplace.  It is heard in passing conversations.  It is mentioned while sharing opinions.  It is seen in emails.  People simply say “I’m sorry” when it is not necessary.

When we are children, proper manners are taught.  Primarily, the proper manners that are taught are saying “please” and “thank you” when at the dinner table and someone passes you the mashed potatoes.  “I’m sorry” is another manner that is taught when you do something wrong or make someone feel bad.  These manners stick with you throughout life and help shape who you are today.  But, saying “please” and “thank you” more often than not is usually a positive trait, especially in the workplace where respect and collaboration are critical, saying “sorry” more often than not is a negative.

The popular phrase “sorry, not sorry” is a better mindset than plain ol’ “sorry.”  Why?  Because it shows intent with what you are doing.  Someone with the “sorry, not sorry” mindset would speak and share their ideas in this manner: “I don’t like your idea because it does not account for the November sales numbers.”  This is a direct form of communication where the point is clear.  Someone with the “sorry” mindset would communicate their ideas in this manner: “I’m sorry, and I don’t mean to offend you, but I’m not a huge fan of this idea because it seems like it does not take the November sales numbers into account.”  This is a wishy-washy response.  Right from the beginning, the “sorry” communicator is discounting their own opinion by being overly concerned with hurting the other person’s feelings.  In the workplace, the purpose of sharing thoughts and opinions is to get the best idea forward, not be concerned with the feelings of others.

You may be wondering: isn’t this a little harsh?  The answer is a resounding “no,” this is not harsh, it is direct.  Would you rather be honest with your thoughts and get your point across or be timid in your responses and not be clear?  I’d choose honest and clear every time.  Just because you share your thoughts or opinions in a direct manner does not make you a mean person - especially at work.  This will actually make others respect you more and think of you as the person who isn’t afraid to share their thoughts.  Saying “sorry” makes you seem weak as a communicator while trying to share your opinions.  If you want others to think highly of your thoughts and opinions when you share them, remove the word “sorry” from your vocabulary.

Your mom and dad may be shirking at the thought of you removing the word “sorry” from your vocabulary.  But, this is an important realization: you do not need to apologize for sharing your thoughts.  You are hired at your company to share your thoughts and expertise, so don’t negate this by apologizing for it.

Are there any situations where you should say “sorry?”  Yes - when you make a mistake and need to own up to it.  Apologize for your error and move on.  Don’t dwell on the “sorry.”

Here are some situations I’ve observed where people say “sorry” when they shouldn’t:

  • A meeting invite is sent out and conflicts with a meeting you’ve previously scheduled.  You decline the invite and say: “Sorry, I can’t attend due to a conflict.”  Why are you sorry?
  • On a conference call, the group is discussing a new idea.  You jump in to share your thoughts and say: “Sorry, I want to jump in here.  I think this idea is…”  Why are you sorry?
  • Your manager asks if you have had a chance to take a look at the presentation deck she sent out last week.  In response, you say: “Sorry, I haven’t had a chance to take a look at it.  Why are you sorry?

In response to the “why are you sorry?” question - there is no reason to be sorry for these situations.  None of these are worth apologizing for.  By simply responding directly to the question, rather than qualifying it with a “sorry,” you will be a stronger, more confident communicator. 

To answer your question directly, Justin, not only is it too late to say sorry, but it is completely unnecessary.

CSU Sorry Challenge

This upcoming week, CSU challenges you to tally how many times you say sorry in email and verbal communication.  This will help you understand how often the phrase is truly used in every day work life so you can work to improve and strengthen your communication.  It is not an easy habit to break, so documenting the habit is the first step to becoming a more confident communicator.  If you take on the CSU Sorry Challenge, tell us about your experiences and how you improved by emailing us or sharing it on social media with the #CSUSorryChallenge hashtag.