Stop Saying Sorry

Why you shouldn't apologize for being human

As a Brit, living in New York, it might seem unusual that I'm the one saying this. It might sound contrary to everything you thought you knew about Brits, in fact. But in this new remote work reality, can we all stop saying "sorry" for everything?

After what feels like a hundred years of working from home, on Zoom and Meet and Slack and Teams, video call after video call, we've all grown accustomed to saying sorry for things we never thought we'd dream of apologizing for in the duration of a work day. "Sorry" because my poor unsuspecting partner just walked into the frame in nothing but a towel. "Sorry" because a toddler just walked into the room to loudly proclaim that they need "a wee." "Sorry" because the dog just ate my slipper and won't stop audibly coughing it up. Or "sorry" because you're not quite sure where that dog even came from.

WFH has given us all a glimpse into each other's very real, human and delightfully flawed lives, and I, like many others, sort of love it for that. Especially in New York, where space is a premium. Finding out that someone senior in my organization, who has three kids, has to work in a closet to find some quiet time; or that one of your clients works cross-legged on their living room floor because they don't have a desk, or table, or a flat surface bigger than a nightstand to work from—WFH is shining a light on some pretty unique-to-New York real-estate problems.

We're all in the same boat, so let's stop apologizing for all the little interruptions that punctuate our day. They're fun, and humanizing, and a reminder that we're all in "this," whatever "this" is, together. 

Not only that, but to constantly say "sorry" for things that are out of our control can have a number of negative effects.

It's damaging to your mental health.

Firstly, saying "sorry" all the time can make you genuinely feel like you have something to be sorry for, and over time that can be exhausting and can change the way that you feel about yourself. In fact, a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that people who apologize more often are also more likely to have lower self-esteem and are less likely to feel in control and empowered in their lives.

It can change the way that people perceive you.

Secondly, apologizing for things that you needn't apologize for can make you seem weak—and let me tell ya, if you're balancing a job, a kid or three, pets, a partner who's also working at home, and you're just about holding it together on this WFH adventure, you're anything but that. Yet that apparent weakness is probably holding you back in client meetings, pitch presentations, or whatever it might be. Apologizing when you have nothing to apologize for can lower people's perceptions of you and give them an undue sense of superiority, which is damaging in any work meeting or communication.

It's just as disruptive as the thing you're apologizing for.

Finally, and this is a practical pointer, an unnecessary apology is probably just as disruptive, and can slow down proceedings just as much, as the initial perceived intrusion itself.

I get it. When something awkward happens, acknowledging it can ease the embarrassment. But maybe there are other ways to acknowledge a disruption without putting yourself on the back-foot. "Kids, amirite?"—OK … I'm no copywriter, but you get the gist. For what it's worth, I've suggested to my team that we all try to stop apologizing when our real lives interrupt our work, because let's not forget that it's the first time for many of us that our work life is truly encroaching on our home life, and it's not the other way around. 

Profile picture for user Asher Wren
Asher Wren
Asher Wren is VP of new business growth at Firstborn.

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