#sorrynotsorry: Moving beyond apologies at the workplace

Open your email inbox and search for the term “sorry”. How many emails did the search throw up? Quite a lot, if workplace behaviour experts are to be believed. The corporate world is seeing an abundance of the word, and unfortunately, in many cases, the apology might have been unnecessary. The situation is so prevalent that there’s even a Gmail plug-in that warns you whenever you choose words like “sorry” that inadvertently undermine your message.

Workplace behavior experts like Melody Wilding and John Hall believe that most workplace apologies make you seem unsure, weak-willed or even insincere. That’s why being more measured in your apologies can help you project a better impression of yourself at work. In fact, here are a few things you can do instead of apologizing the next time a difficult situation comes up.

Make an effort to offer solutions

When Detelina Marinova, Sunil K. Singh, and Jagdip Singh studied the efforts made by customer service executives to confront an irate customer, they realized that after the first few seconds, apologizing ceases to be effective. Instead, customers are more impressed by how creatively and enthusiastically a service professional tries to solve the problem. The lesson here? Focus on the solutions.

Thank people instead

Do you apologize when you cancel on a plan because you’re sick or if you have to leave early to pick up your child from school? If you have a legitimate reason for not being around, an apology will make you seem insecure and needing validation for your priorities. Instead, explain why you have to change plans and thank people for understanding.

Explain what will be different in the future

An apology, especially when things are stressful, can seem insincere. Instead, repair broken trust by letting people know what you will do to make sure this behavior won’t happen again. It makes them feel better immediately, and the next time a similar situation arises, and they see you behave the way you promised you would, they will be more confident of your ability to do the right thing.

Ask how things can be better

Another problem faced in corporate life — something has gone wrong and you had no power to prevent it, but you are still accountable for resolving the issue. In such a case, you could lead with empathy for the situation and ask how you could help to resolve it.

There are times when an apology is necessary. Let’s say a work situation went wrong even though you were given full control of it. Or a team you are in charge of made an error. These situations call for an apology.

Just remember, the genuine “sorry” is not just an expression of regret. It also means you will take responsibility of the situation — an admirable quality in a world of superficial apologies.

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