No Need to Apologize
Raise your hand if you often speak before you think. If this is you (as it’s often me), I encourage you to slow down and consider your words carefully. What we say in conversation and presentation speaks volumes about our level of confidence and how we feel about the topic we’re discussing.
As women, it is a common occurrence that we will mitigate our opinions and ideas before we share them. For example, do you ever find yourself saying something like, “I’m sorry, but I disagree.” Or, “This may be way off, but have you thought about…?” Or, “I certainly don’t know enough about this subject to say, but would it make sense to do it this way?” This tendency to discount statements, particularly among women, is very common.
Why do we do this? According to a study conducted by the University of Waterloo Canada, women apologize more frequently than men because they report committing more offenses than men. As we navigate our careers, we are constantly finding our way through challenging relationships and defining ourselves by our words and actions. We often learn to diplomatically moderate our opinions. But this can undermine our confidence and significantly reduce our personal power.
Noted in a NY Times article, Madeleine Burry, a freelance writer living in New York, tried an experiment where she stopped apologizing for a week. “I searched my inbox for the word, ‘Sorry,’ and it was a little horrifying.” She also downloaded a browser extension that warned her every time she typed an apology. “It was like a verbal tic, like saying, ‘Um.’ It was something I would reach for when I wasn’t really sure what to say.”
When I tried focusing on this as well for a few days, I was amazed at how frequently I used qualifiers. Occasionally it’s just fine to use them and they’re absolutely the right words to choose. But often I am on autopilot and not aware of the impact of my words.
Career coach Kathy Caprino suggests that just by reframing your speech, "You'll gain more awareness about what you really feel. You can be polite without apologizing for what you have every right to share." If you say something and preface it with "Sorry, but," she adds, "it completely undermines the power of your statements." Rather than saying "Sorry, but I have a question..." try: "I'd like to ask a question, please." Here’s another reframe: swap "Sorry for burdening you with all of this," with: "Thank you for listening."
When I train teams on harassment and ethics, I remind people that words are like toothpaste; once they’re out, they can’t be squeezed back into the tube again. Taking those few moments before we speak can greatly improve our confidence and leave others with a stronger impression. It allows us to form our intention, stay away from qualifiers that diminish our personal power and consider the impact of our words.
ISPE Women in Pharma® (WIP) provides women in the pharmaceutical industry a forum for connecting and collaborating on technical and career advancement topics. Women in Pharma’s inclusive community leverages a network of mentors, role models, and resources across all levels to foster balanced professional success.