Despite remarkable progress in the workplace and society over the past few decades, women still seem to have more trouble being assertive, overall, than do their male counterparts. For instance, women tend to be more apologetic than men are, even when the situation doesn’t necessarily warrant an apology. Some women seem to be constantly apologizing, and even their nonverbal communication leaves the impression that they are apologizing for taking up space. Some women are so apologetic that, when called on it, they apologize yet again. That’s an extreme example, but the tendency to be overly apologetic is a problem that many women need to correct.
Not convinced? Then here – without apology – are 5 reasons a woman should curb that apology impulse in the office, particularly if she’s in a position of authority or has ambitions in that direction.
1. Being constantly apologetic makes you appear submissive. Continually and unnecessarily apologizing is submissive behavior. Even if you have a subordinate role in the workplace, you don’t have to be submissive. You’re less likely to be taken seriously, either by superiors or subordinates, if you’re continually saying you’re sorry for everything you do or say.
2. Being overly apologetic can erode your self-confidence. This goes hand in hand with number 1 above. Constantly apologizing can not only lessen others’ regard for you, it can also make you doubt yourself and your own capabilities. And if you’re aiming for a position of authority, being too apologetic can sabotage your efforts at advancement, as it reinforces your submissive behavior and thought patterns.
3. Being overly apologetic clouds the real issues. Maybe you apologize to keep peace or to be diplomatic. But there’s such a thing as being too diplomatic, to the point of being dishonest. If you keep letting others get away with boorish behavior and cover it with an apology and a smile, the problems will continue to fester and may blow up in your face someday.
4. Being overly apologetic is ineffective anyway, due to overuse. A recent study showed that because women are more apologetic than men, their apologies are generally less likely to be taken seriously.
Apparently it’s the unexpected apology that makes people sit up and take notice. While the same study indicated that, statistically speaking, an apology from someone in a managerial position is more significant than the gender of the person making the apology, women in general are still taken less seriously, so apologies should only be made when the situation truly calls for one.
5. Apologizing can seem like an admission of guilt or liability. This could be especially important for women in HR, particularly when dealing with an employee’s complaint. Even a well-intentioned expression of empathy can backfire if it seems to be framed as an apology for the company’s wrongdoing.
Nobody is suggesting that women adopt an arrogant attitude and never apologize when an apology is indeed appropriate. Moreover, as many women have discovered, female assertiveness also carries risks. Both male and female employees are more likely to classify a woman as “bossy” when she is even mildly assertive, though they wouldn’t blink an eye at the identical behavior from a man in the exact same situation. Your best bet is to strive to be as reasonable and balanced and fair as possible, keeping in mind that in the workplace it’s generally better to err on the side of assertiveness – even if they do call you “bossy”.
About the Author: This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from people search. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.