How many times have you apologized for something today? What about in the last week?

“Hey, sorry, can I get that information I requested from you a week ago?”

“Sorry but that’s just the way I feel about the issue.”

“I’m sorry, I know we’re in the middle of budget cuts, but I really would like to talk about a pay raise.”

“Sorry, could you explain those instructions one more time?”

I recently caught myself in a coffee shop, fixing my coffee, and apologizing when another customer walked up to also fix their coffee. News flash: I paid for my coffee too. No one minds waiting 10 seconds while another coffee shop patron stirs cream and sugar into her cup. Why did I apologize for existing in the same space as another human being?

As Southern women, we are taught from a young age that manners are paramount. Our mothers would never steer us wrong. Our politeness and ability to get along with others has served us well in life, but what effect is it having on us at work? Why are we over-apologizing in the first place?

Most of our apologies are one of two things. Number one: we’re using verbal filler. We don’t take the time to think of a more appropriate word or phrase to use in the place of “sorry”. There were a number of appropriate things I could have said to my fellow coffee-lover: “Good morning”, “How are you?”. I could have said absolutely nothing. I got lazy and uncomfortable and blurted out “Sorry”.

Number 2: we are uncomfortable with our own assertiveness and are scared of coming across as impolite. Remember those phrases we talked about earlier? In all of those examples, the word “sorry” could be replaced with “I really don’t want you to be mad because of what I’m about to say”. Instead of saying either of those things, we need to stop before we speak and mentally affirm to ourselves it is okay to ask things of our co-workers.

“Hey, sorry, can I get that information I requested from you a week ago?”

Sorry but that’s just the way I feel about the issue.”

I’m sorry, I know we’re in the middle of budget cuts, but I really would like to talk about a pay raise.”

Sorry, could you explain those instructions one more time?”

Read these sentences without the apology. Were you offended by the rudeness of anything you read? Of course you weren’t. There was nothing to be sorry for in the first place. All were legitimate requests made frequently in a professional setting.

As one New York Times article said so well, “It’s not what we’re saying that’s the problem; it’s what we’re not saying. The sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want. We are not sorry to ask for an email that should have been sent to us weeks ago, or to expect to receive the item we paid for, or to be bumped into on the subway.”

When we over-apologize at work, we undermine our authority and value. If someone hears “sorry” before every request you make of them, it’s only a matter of time before they DO subconsciously view your requests as an inconvenience.

Taking “sorry” out of your vocabulary isn’t a quick, easy fix, and it doesn’t mean we check our manners at the door when we get to work. The “fix” has more to do with self-awareness. Before you send that email, are you saying “sorry” because you’ve done something wrong and need to apologize? If the answer is no, find a better phrase. Are you about to blurt out “sorry” because a coworker bumped into you on the elevator? Stop yourself.

Your communication style is a vital part of your professional life. Don’t let something you’re unconsciously saying affect the impression you’re leaving with your coworkers.

There’s tons of information available on women over-apologizing. If you want to read some we found helpful, click here or here.