Career Advice: Saying Sorry At Work

When things go wrong and it is your fault, it is usually best to put your hand up, accept the mistake, say sorry, and help move on to find a solution – especially at work. Hiding your mistakes or blaming others will only tend to back-fire if you get found out, losing you trust and standing at work. However, saying ‘sorry’ too much can also be a problem – especially when there is no need. Saying sorry in order to cushion a request or save someone’s feelings can actually instead make you sound unsure, unworthy, or even at least partially to blame for something. A mis-placed sorry can undermine your credibility at work and see your ideas and contributions side-lined or ignored. Unfortunately, apologising unnecessarily seems particularly common in women, which only serves to undermine their authority, so here’s six instances when you really don’t need to say sorry at work:

  • You Have An Idea

If you have a good idea that you want to get across then there is no need to apologise. Starting your sentence with “I’m sorry, but I thought…” makes you sound unsure and as if your idea might not really be worth hearing. It makes you sound like you and your ideas are less important than those of others, so instead be confident in yourself and your ideas and don’t undermine them by apologising before you even get started. If your idea is turned down then so be it, but at least you showed you were willing to get involved and be part of the team. Take ownership of your ideas and work rather than hiding away.

  • You Need Help With Something

Whether you need some more training or simply a helping hand at work, there is no need to say sorry. Everybody needs some help from time-to-time, especially if they are new to a role. Of course, you should be polite when you ask for help and grateful when you get the assistance you need. That said if the help you needed takes longer or turns into a bigger job than you expected then you should apologise – but there is no need to say sorry just for asking for a favour.

  • Someone Lets You Down

Suppose you have a report to get finished, but you need some input from a colleague to get it done. However, that person hasn’t pulled their weight and you are left waiting for them. There is no need to say to them, “I’m sorry, but can I have those figures I need for my report.” It makes you sound slightly to blame for the situation and apologetic when there is no need to be. Of course it is always best to be polite and calm, but you should also be firm when addressing situations like this. Don’t lose your temper at work, but rather see if there is a good reason why your colleague has been slow to deliver. Don’t get angry, but equally don’t say sorry either. Maybe there is something you can do to help? By being helpful rather than apologetic you also create some good karma for yourself at work. Of course, if things are really bad you may need to speak with your boss to explain what is going on, but ideally this shouldn’t be your first response.

  • You Need Something To Do Your Job

You can’t be expected to work without the tools needed to do the job, whether this is a working computer or a spirit level. Whether it is real physical tools, software, training or information, you deserve to have what you need to do your job. Saying sorry for asking for things that you require gives the impression that you don’t really need or deserve them. Rather than saying sorry when you ask for these basics, just work out what you need and why so you can explain it to your boss. They may not understand why you need something in particular so you may need to explain it to them. If they turn your request down, you can then calmly ask if there is an alternative that will help you to do your job. Not being provided with the right tools is not your fault, but it can impact how well you can do your job.

  • Money Problems

If your wages are delayed or late there is really no need to apologise. You are working for a salary so should rightfully expect to be paid for your time and effort. This is not to say that you should be rude when addressing any money queries, mistakes may occasionally happen. However, on the other hand if you are chasing up a payment from a client you need to be polite but firm. Again, there is no need to apologise – a shop wouldn’t say sorry for expecting you to pay at the till – but you may need to be understanding if there are genuine reasons for a delay.

  • Holiday & Sick Days

Apologising for booking time off should only be done if you need to go away at a particularly busy time of the year when you know it will impact the business and your colleagues the most. However, while an apology is polite in such cases, you don’t need to say sorry for taking the time off that you are owed as part of your contract. It is polite to give as much notice of any time off as possible, and it is also good to try and prepare your colleagues for while you are away. Not only will this make things easier for them, but it should also reduce the amount of work that is waiting for you when you get back! If you need to take time off sick, then it is easy to feel the need to say sorry, but then again, it’s hardly your fault that you are unwell – you have sick days because, sometimes, you will feel unwell.

What you say and how you say it is important in how you are treated at work, so make sure you don’t undermine your credibility by saying sorry when you don’t need to. Instead try to exude an air of confidence – stand up straight and speak politely, but with conviction.

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