I believe what you're trying to say is, 'Thank you'

How many times per day do you apologize? (pause for reflection)

So, what did you come up with? I used to apologize for everything--for breathing and existing! "Sorry to bother you, but..." (Yawns) "Sorry, I didn't get much sleep last night!" Who apologizes for yawning?! Me, that's who. At least, I used to, until I realized that I was not crossing anyone's boundaries nor was I making any mistakes. It took a handful of case studies, more women's studies and leadership classes than I care to count, and numerous more anectdotal examples for me to realize that I was doing myself a disservice by constantly apologizing when I really meant "thank you".

Have you ever apologized for requesting a meeting? Have you ever apologized for disagreeing with someone about how to finish a project? How about apologizing for asking a second or even third follow-up question for clarification? Why do we feel the need to apologize for trying to improve ourselves and using resources? There are multiple studies and reports that show a correlation with wanting to be liked and frequency of apologizing--that, apologizing suggests to our social circles, leaders, coworkers...that we willingly undermine our own value when apologizing in an effort to avoid conflict. In other words, we will undermine our own abilities and knowledge just to be liked or avoid a short-term conflict.

Now, in fairness there are also subject matter experts who say that apologizing is just a way to maintain professionalism in the workplace. In fact, I have personally spoken to multiple people on campus and they equate apologizing to the "Iowa nice" culture. Something to consider with professionalism, "Iowa nice", and workplace confidence: the next time you feel the need to apologize, try thanking the person instead.

Apologies are not necessary unless you have made a genuine mistake and the action which initially required an apology will be remedied. In other words, if we constantly apologize for requesting meetings, asking follow-up questions, or simply expressing opinions do we really need to apologize? Should we apologize for sharing our knowledge, collaborating, and ensuring clarification? Because the reality is meetings and opinions on best-practices will continue to be made. Try this next time you feel an "I'm sorry, but" coming to the surface: try reframing your statement to the positive affirmative.

For example:

Instead of, "Sorry to bother you, but do you think we could meet to discuss...I just have a few more follow-up questions if you don't mind."

Try: "Thank you for meeting with me recently. I know you are busy right now so I appreciate your time. I would like to discuss a few points of clarification before moving forward with this project..."

It's ok to acknowledge the person's busy schedule while not undermining the importance of your job as well. Regardless of our titles, we shouldn't apologize for trying to function in the work place. The following is a non-exhaustive list from U.S. News of when leaders should and should not apologize:

Should apologize: (these all apply to personal lives as well)

  • When you made a mistake
  • When you crossed boundaries
  • When you created a genuine hardship upon someone


When you should NOT apologize:

  • Requesting a meeting
  • Respectfully disagreeing
  • Declining plans
  • Going to bed early
  • Saying no
  • Taking personal time/mental health days
  • Letting go
  • Delayed responses
  • Following up
  • Not having a direct answer
  • Having high expectations
  • Spending time on yourself
  • For someone else's mistake
  • Dancing poorly (I presume this one is mostly personal, however anyone who ever watched West Wing knows Ainsley Hayes is not afraid to cut a rug in her office)


To summarize: try thanking someone instead of apologizing. You might be surprised at how empowering it is just simply saying "thank you" to someone when historically you would have apologized. Also, for those of you keeping track, yes, this is my second Moana referenced blog. Sorry.