A woman sitting at a desk with a pencil in between her lips as she holds a lollipop

How many times do you say, “I’m sorry,” on a typical day? If you’re like many women, then you probably utter these words more times than you can count. Your habit of apologizing might be undermining your success in the workplace.

When you apologize, you instantly put yourself at the mercy of another person. They can determine whether to grant forgiveness and, if so, under what conditions. While minor overuse of the phrase won’t undermine your standing, doing so continually casts you in a subservient light, which is not ideal for getting ahead.

Instead of apologizing, say thank you.

Did you commit a minor faux pas, like arriving 30 seconds late for a meeting? Instead of saying that you’re sorry, thank everyone for waiting for you instead.

Thanking people is empowering on both sides. You make the other party feel appreciated for their kindness, but at the same time, you maintain your power. You’re not asking for any special concessions. You’re a worthy contributor, but you’re also a human being. Simply acknowledge the generous act of others for waiting a few seconds for you to arrive.

Remind yourself of your value.

If you want to deal from a position of power, then it helps to internalize all the skills you bring to the table. Oftentimes, we as women focus on our inadequacies, not our strengths. Start keeping a journal of accomplishments to remind yourself of all the remarkable things you do. As a bonus, you’ll have a breezier time of it when you update your resume. 

Know your rights. 

Part of bringing confidence to the workplace entails knowing what behavior is and isn’t acceptable. Your employer cannot legally discriminate against you due to your gender, race, national origin, religious preference or age. This means an employer cannot create a hostile work environment full of disquieting “jokes,” nor can they pass you over for raises or promotions based on factors like getting pregnant. 

If you feel you’ve been harassed at work, then don’t apologize or excuse it. Report the incident to HR anonymously. Do you want to boost your confidence further? File a report if you witness discrimination based on gender or sexual identity. While some jurisdictions consider these protected classes, many do not.

Ask questions.

If you want to get ahead in your career, then it’s handy to know what your employer wants. You can read over the qualifications for promotion a million times, but if you’re still getting passed over, it’s time to speak up. Consider probing into this on a routine basis. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What are your priorities for me to accomplish?
    Try to narrow down precisely what your employer would like you to focus on improving within a designated time frame.
  • How do I compare to the best employees you have managed?
    This question shows emotional intelligence. It also enables your boss to address your habits (that although they may not directly impact productivity) are irritating. 
  • How am I progressing and how can I improve?
    Checking in regularly shows that you actively care about engaging in your growth.

Modify your body language. 

It’s not only what you say, but how you say it. If you stop saying “I’m sorry,” but you look as dejected as Eeyore at every minor hiccup, then you’ll earn a reputation as insecure. 

Try to avoid sitting with excessive stiffness, as this makes you look ready to flee. Try to project a relaxed air. Also, speaking too quickly implies nervousness. Make a conscientious effort to slow down when you talk. 

Stop apologizing at work. Doing so too often will only sabotage your career trajectory. Instead, confidently embrace your strength, which will bolster how you are perceived in the office. 

Do you find yourself apologizing a lot at work? How can you undo this habit?

Image via Sky Yim, Darling Issue No. 11

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