Drop ‘sorry’ to increase the power of your leadership communication

Sorry’ is often overused by women in the workplace and misinterpreted by men. Not for a moment am I suggesting we don’t take responsibility for our mistakes… Instead, this is a caution against damaging your leadership presence with excessive use of ‘sorry’.
‘Cathy’ is a talented leader and the only female on her organisation’s senior leadership team. When we met, her overuse of ‘sorry’ had reduced her power and confidence as a leader. She used sorry:

  • To convey empathy.‘ I am so sorry you feel under pressure to get that report complete.’
  • To reduce conflict. ‘I’m sorry. I have a different view…’
  • To apologise. ‘I am really sorry that I mishandled that situation. I took the wrong direction from the start. I am very sorry.’

Sorry? So what’s the problem? 

1.   ‘Sorry’ typically comes in a package deal, including its own tone and body language. A smart and confident leader can be transformed into  a wide-eyed little child with one ‘sorry’!
2.   Women (and in some cultures men as well) tend to use ‘sorry’ to soften their communication and / or convey empathy. Men typically hear ‘sorry’ as an admission of fault. Can you see where this is leading?
3.   Over-apologising can also erode our self-confidence and the confidence others have in us.
So back to Cathy – here’s what her male colleagues could have heard:

  • ‘Cathy is at fault and now I need to work under pressure to get the report complete.’
  • ‘Cathy has another idea she lacks confidence in.’
  • ‘Cathy stuffed up again, she feels bad, and she has no ideas about resolving the situation.’
    Cathy is empathetic,  results focussed and develops creative solutions. The CEO values her recommendations. When Cathy dropped ‘sorry’, her confidence increased and so did her level of influence.
    How did she do that?
  • To convey empathy.‘Your effort to get that report complete under pressure has been noticed.’
  • To reduce conflict. ‘Here’s a different approach to consider…’
  • To apologise. ‘I mishandled that situation and I apologise. Here’s how we can win back the lost ground….’
    Drop ‘sorry’ to increase the power of your leadership communication:
  • Use other ways to convey empathy.
  • Offer your ideas openly, collaboratively and confidently.

When you do make a mistake, apologise once (‘I apologise’ is more impactful than ‘I’m sorry…’) and then move onto problem solving.
Count the number of times you say ‘sorry’ in one morning. If the number surprises you, commit to dropping ‘sorry’.
Have an Extraordinary Day