Being apologetic is holding you back

Women are brought up to be nice and polite, but this can lead to being apologetic without even realising it.

Ever started an email with ‘would you mind?’, ‘if it’s not too much trouble‘, or prefaced a suggestion in a meeting with ‘just an idea, not sure it’s worth mentioning?‘. We often don’t even realise we are using apologetic language, but ladies, it could be holding us back at work.


Women inadvertently tend to play down their ideas so as not to seem too brash or pushy. They are often self-critical and thus less forthcoming with suggestions, or nominating themselves for roles. Men are more likely to put themselves forward for a role whether they are qualified or not, and shout louder with demands or ideas, but why is this? This natural desire of not wanting to make a fuss is a learnt behaviour that stems from growing up in a patriarchal society. One in which women have not been considered capable of top jobs or leading, and often have not been allowed in the professional space at all.

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So if you think you might be guilty of this, here are 5 things you can do to stop being apologetic at work:

  1. Ask for a pay rise

Asking for a pay rise takes guts but we won’t close the pay gap unless we ask for it. Let’s look at a company that uses quarterly self-assessment to guide salary increases. John rates himself two pay brackets higher than his current one, while Meg, who is more self-critical, rates herself only one bracket higher. Come next quarter Meg, who has just done a great job on a project, is still earning the same whilst John, who has dropped the ball on a deal, has moved up a bracket. Next time rate yourself in that  higher bracket. Your company is unlikely to offer you more if they can get away with it, so don’t give them an out.

  1. Be more demanding in emails

It can often be difficult to get timely responses to emails and it could be down to your style.  If you are using phrases like ‘If you have a minute’ or ‘When you get the chance‘ it gives people an excuse to get to it later. Avoid question words like ‘Could you?‘ or ‘Would you mind?‘, instead issuing firm demands like ‘Please confirm once this is done‘. Adding a deadline can also help with response times for example ‘Please get this back to me by 5pm’.

  1. Stop saying ‘sorry to bother you’

If you’re guilty of saying ‘Sorry to bother you‘ every time you address your boss and colleagues you need to stop. If you keep telling them your time is a bother, they will start to believe it is. You are just doing your job and don’t need to be apologetic for that. Introduce suggestions or questions plainly and simply. ‘Can I run something by you?’, or ‘Can I speak with you?‘. You will be taken more seriously and feel more empowered.

  1. Don’t apologise when you actually have nothing to apologise for

If you’ve made a genuine mistake at work, or hurt someone’s feelings sorry is still the perfect word. If however, you’re someone who uses it excessively as a filler word, or when something was out of your control, it could be making you look weak or indecisive. ‘Sorry I’m just going to nip to the bathroom‘, ‘Sorry I’ll get out of your way‘ are types of apologetic language that allow people to think they can walk all over you.

  1. Put yourself forward

Putting yourself up for a promotion or a new job can seem daunting, especially if you feel you don’t tick every box on the job description. But don’t rule yourself out before your boss can. Guess what, your less qualified male colleague has probably already applied without a second thought. Don’t stop yourself from missing out on an opportunity. Even if you don’t get it this time it will show your ambition and you will be on the radar for future progression.

It can be hard to seem confident and unapologetic, but these five steps are a great place to start. Once you start making small changes, and really believing them, you will start seeing big changes in your career.

If you think these apply to you, use our Career Coaching Service to identify your personal development needs and build on your strengths.

Hanna Greeman Contributor
Hanna is a languages and logistics specialist. She is currently living in Barcelona working as a Creative Copywriter.
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