OPINION: The not sorry debate needs to move on

by Jan 17, 2016

The not sorry debate has served its purpose! Get over it!

 not sorry debate

Let’s move on from the not sorry debate

There is a lot going on (and on) around the not sorry debate, especially now we have an app. This is a gmail plug-in, from Cyrus Innovation that  works in the same way as spellcheck, red lining any words or phrases used that ‘undermine your message’

In the interest of transparency, the not sorry debate is now getting on my nerves. All of them.

There has been a flurry of response to this app.

Harriet Minter, in the Guardian maintains, that what should change is the male dominated culture. She is right.

At the same time she asks “do women need to adapt their language to be accepted at work? It’s time men stopped telling us what to say and started understanding what we mean'”


In her defence of the female speech style, she ends up advocating for unconstructive communication and even passive aggression. [Tweet “This is not a good leadership strategy.”]

Clear Communication

The whole point of communication is that the recipient will hear and understand your intended message. The burden of responsibility for clarity, rests with the communicator. In an era of reduced attention spans (a gender neutral trend) the need to be clear to maintain engagement, is becoming more important.  

Read: How to stop over apologizing. 

In a recent interview, the panel member who asked a female candidate what point she was trying to make, was another woman. 

All communication experts tell us that it’s important to start off strong. Wasting that prime communication space with unclear verbiage, is in no ones interests.

Awareness Appnot sorry app

The not sorry debate created awareness around female speech patterns.  Apps can play a role in that process  – so I’m not against them. Some women might find the “sorry not sorry” app helpful. Recently I used an app created by Kat Matfield, a software specialist, designed to determine if a job advertisement is written with “gender-coded language” that could discourage women from applying. Mine was. I was horrified and made some appropriate tweaks.

We also need to remember that our words impact our mind-set. Apologizing unnecessarily, when there is nothing to apologize for, creates an imbalance in relationships which can undermine both our position and confidence. Apologize if there is something to be sorry for, but not because it’s a reflexive tick learned in our childhoods to be people-pleasers.

[Tweet “This is why a genuine apology becomes “I’m so sooooo sorry””]

Gender balance

The same campaigns highlighted male-style interrupting, “bropppriation”,  and “mansplaining” equally unconstructive communication patterns. These initiatives named and articulated something all women know happens frequently. We now understand that it isn’t personal. So at the same time as women are becoming mindful of their own communication ticks, men need greater awareness training of their own. There has to be gender balance.


Apologizing when you are not sorry is not authentic. Presenting an instruction as a request “Would you mind?” is indirect communication. Both phrases convey a message that we are more focused on being pleasant than being honest and are afraid to be direct. In a leadership role it can impact a team.

Read: How companies can benefit from employee self-confidence by Gilly Weinstein. 

It is possible to create strong relationships, be polite and empathetic, while being clear. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

What we need to see is empathetic, constructive communication from both men and women.

Men and women need to become gender bilingual to understand the drivers and motivation of each other’s communication styles. This is not going to happen until men and women equally, understand and manage the stereotypical communication traps they have been raised to fall into, and learn to manage them. 

This involves someone pointing them out.

For information on training and coaching programs for your women leaders contact 3Plus NOW






Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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