I recently spent the weekend with friends whom I’ve known for longer than I probably should admit. Needless to say, we know each other well.
The last time we were all together I noticed (amongst my friends) a habit. A bad habit. A bad habit of saying a common two-word phrase. Two words that many of us, especially I hate to admit, many women, use and overuse.
“I’m sorry,” they said. Too quickly and too often. And while apologizing is a great social skill, and owning your errors and rough edges is a great leadership skill, I think my friends – and perhaps many people – apologize much more than is necessary. And apologize for things that one shouldn’t apologize for.
“I’m sorry there’s so much construction here,” one would say. Is it her fault? “I’m sorry I had to work late and couldn’t make it down here last night,” from another. Like we’d be mad at her because she’s diligent in her job.
When we apologize so much – too much – for things that aren’t our responsibility or in ways that undermine our strengths, we lessen our credibility and sell ourselves short. Thereby giving others permission to sell us short as well, or to see us as not as competent, smart, capable, and powerful as we really are.
So I suggested a new rule for our weekends together – we aren’t allowed to say “I’m sorry” to each other. And if we do slip out those two verboten words, we have to counteract any diminishing of ourselves by sharing something positive about ourselves. I coach my clients to list their strengths and what they uniquely contribute. As an effective leader (and person) it’s important to be able to own what’s great about yourself, albeit humbly. Having my friends list their positive attributes, I figured, would help them own their strengths as well, and also cure them of “I’m sorry’s.”
Well, in some ways my idea worked, and in some ways it backfired. It may come as no surprise that I was the one who said “I’m sorry” the most that weekend. I had noticed in my friends something that I had to change in myself.
Luckily for me, I preach owning your strengths, so I was prepared to share my “good stuff.” But even for me it got tired. And by the end of the weekend, I was saying, “I’m sorry” less and less.
I know that a heartfelt “I’m sorry” can save situations, relationships, and maybe – at a stretch – organizations or the world. But I also know that many of us use it way too often, and in ways that sabotage ourselves.
So do yourself a favor. Challenge yourself to stop saying “I’m sorry” unless it’s really appropriate. Challenge yourself to tell someone something great about yourself if you do say, “I’m sorry.” It should cure you pretty quickly.
Lose those two words.
Where do you apologize too much? What great things can you share about yourself instead?
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