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Redefining Apologies in Professional Communication


Woman with hands up looking unsure!

Welcome this blog post reflection which was sparked by a vibrant dialogue within my Online Conscious Leadership Program, live group coaching session this week.


Our exploration delved into a single, yet remarkably impactful word: 'sorry'. It's a conversation that resonated deeply, prompting me to share my insights and perspectives as I hope it will inspire and empower you in your conscious leadership journey.


Have you ever heard the phrase 'words create worlds'? This powerful concept, often attributed to Judith E. Glaser, emphasizes how our choice of words not only shapes our reality but also influences the perceptions of those around us.

As a leader, I've come to understand just how true this is, especially with the word "sorry." While apologising can be a gesture of humility and empathy, overusing "sorry" can create unintended consequences in ourselves and others. It can signal a lack of confidence, create uncertainty, and even diminish the trust others place in us.


Do you find yourself, like me, frequently saying "sorry"? Do you find yourself apologising even when it's not necessary, just to smooth things over?


As a leader,I've experienced that too. I pride myself on my ability to connect and build strong relationships with the people I work with, but I realised that my frequent use of "sorry" can signal a lack of confidence and negatively impact my communication. If you can relate, read on to learn about my journey of over-apologising, its effects, and my suggestions on how to find the right balance between appropriate and excessive apologies.


My Struggle with Over-Apologising


Woman at a desk with a lap top in front of her holding her hands to her eyes.

1. Undermining Confidence:

I use the word ‘sorry’ frequently, feeling that it smoothes over potential conflict or discomfort. However, the impact of constantly apologising can undermine my confidence. When "sorry" becomes my default response, it can signal that I lack belief in my decisions and abilities. This can reduce my power of influence and the respect I receive.


2. Lowered Self-Esteem:

The habit of constantly apologising takes a toll on my self-esteem. It becomes a cycle where the act of apologising reinforces my lack of confidence, making me feel less competent and increasing my tendency to apologise even more!


3. Impact on Group Dynamics:

Overusing apologies creates confusion and uncertainty within a group. They become unsure about standards and expectations, and I've felt a subtle loss of respect, which undermines group cohesion and effectiveness.


How I Address the Habit of Over-Apologising


Below are some suggestions that you can try when trying to break this habit: 


1. Building Self-Confidence:

Self-Awareness: I keep track of when and why I apologise. This helps me identify patterns and triggers, providing valuable insights into my behavior.


Positive Affirmations: I remind myself of my strengths and achievements. This practice boosts my confidence and reduces my impulse to apologise unnecessarily.


2. Effective Communication:

Confident Language: I use confident rather than apologetic language. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, but I think we should do it this way,” I say, “I believe we should approach it this way because…” 


Gratitude Over Apology: I try to replace unnecessary apologies with expressions of gratitude. Instead of saying, “Sorry for taking up your time,” I say, “Thank you for your time.”


3. Seeking Feedback and Mentorship:

Constructive Feedback: I seek feedback from trusted colleagues and mentors on my communication style. Their insights help me continue to build my communication competencies, rather than falling into habitual communication habits. 


Professional Development: I engage in webinars and coaching on effective communication, which enhances my skills and builds my confidence.


4. Reframing Mistakes:

Learning Opportunities: I try to view my mistakes as learning opportunities. Adopting a growth mindset reduces my fear of making mistakes and the need to apologise for them.


Constructive Responses: When a mistake occurs, I focus on constructive responses. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry for the mistake,” I say, “Here’s what happened and how I plan to address it.”


Man finding balance on a plank of wood.

Balancing Apologies: When "Sorry" is Appropriate


While over-apologising can be detrimental, I also know the importance of knowing when to apologise.



Here are some suggestions for using "sorry" appropriately:


1. Acknowledge Mistakes: If my actions negatively impact others, I make sure to apologise sincerely. This shows accountability and empathy, fostering trust and repairing relationships.


2. Conflict Resolution: Apologies can de-escalate conflicts and open the door to constructive dialogue. I find that apologising promptly and sincerely helps resolve issues more amicably.


3. Building Trust: Appropriate apologies help build trust. They demonstrate my humility and commitment to improving and learning from mistakes.


4. Modeling Behavior: As a leader, I know my actions set the tone. By apologising appropriately, I model the behaviour I like to see from others, encouraging a culture of accountability and openness.


A women and man in a lab doing chemistry experiments

Practical Scenarios for Using "Sorry" Mindfully


Let’s look some suggestions in practical terms and how we might default into using the “sorry” inappropriately and some alternative wording for you to experiment with:   


1. Declining a Request for Time Off

   Apology: "I'm sorry, but we can't approve your leave request."

   Alternative: "Thank you for your leave request, I have checked the leave

calendar and due to staffing requirements I can’t grant you the leave that week.

Let’s explore some other possible dates? “


2. Addressing a Mistake in a Roster

    Apology: "I'm sorry for the roster error."

    Alternative: " Thank you for pointing out that roster error. I'll correct it right

away and ensure it doesn't happen again."


3. Correcting a Staff Member's Action

    Apology: "I'm sorry, but you need to do it this way."

    Alternative: "I appreciate your effort. Talk me through the way you

approached this and let’s work together to make sure we create the best

results."


4. Informing Families of a Policy Change

    Apology: "I'm sorry for any inconvenience, but we have a new policy."

    Alternative: "We have updated our policy to improve the way we X. Thank you

for your understanding and cooperation. We are happy to receive any feedback

or questions you have.” 


5. Unable to Attend an Event

    Apology: "I'm sorry I can't make it to the event."

    Alternative: "Thank you for inviting me. I won't be able to attend, but I look

forward to hearing all about it."


7. Delaying a Response to an Email

    Apology: "I'm sorry for the late response."

   Alternative: "Thank you for your patience. Here is the information you

requested."


8. Giving Constructive Feedback

    Apology: "I'm sorry, but your report needs more detail."

   Alternative: "You’ve made a really good start on that report.  Let’s sit down and

go through it together.”


9. Informing a Staff Member about a Shift Change

   Apology: "I'm sorry, but we need to change your shift."

   Alternative: "We need to adjust your shift on Tuesday to make sure we have

the appropriate cover. Can we explore a couple of options?”


10. Explaining Budget Constraints to Families

      Apology: "I'm sorry, but we can't afford new equipment this year."

     Alternative: "You have made some great resource suggestions, which we are 

      happy to consider, when we start planning for next year's budget.”


Conclusion

In leadership, finding the right balance in using the word "sorry" is essential. Over-apologising can undermine your confidence and self-assurance, while appropriate apologies can build trust, resolve conflicts, and foster a positive team environment. The examples I’ve shared show how the words we choose can shape our interactions and the world around us. By shifting from unnecessary apologies to expressions of gratitude and assertiveness, we change the energy and dynamics of our conversations.


These small changes in language not only reflect a more confident and capable leader but also create a more empowering and supportive environment for your teams and the families you serve. By building self-awareness, practicing confident communication, seeking feedback, and viewing mistakes as learning opportunities, we can use "sorry" effectively and confidently.


Remember, the goal is not to eliminate the word "sorry" but to use it consciously and appropriately. This balance helps you lead with confidence, collaboration, and empathy, creating a supportive and thriving environment where words truly create worlds.


Reflect And Experiment


I encourage you, to reflect on your use of "sorry" in your communication.  Identify situations where you might be over-apologising and consider experimenting with restructuring your language. Notice the shifts in approach and energy this creates in your interactions. Discuss these changes with your colleagues or your team, and explore together how conscious communication can enhance your leadership and the overall environment of your early childhood setting.


If you're eager to further develop your communication skills and embark on a journey of professional growth, I invite you to book a discovery session with us. Follow the link here or email sarah@earlyeducationleadership.com

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