Why Women Should Stop Saying Sorry in the Workplace

April 13, 2020
4 Min Read
Photo by

What do Beyoncé, Julia Child, and a 2014 Patene commercial have in common?

They're not sorry.

They also share another common thread: Their messages are geared towards women. Why? Statistically speaking, women are inherently known to apologize more frequently than men (we'll get more into that later). Don't get us wrong, saying sorry is an important tool when rectifying a mistake. But over-apologizing without real reason can be dangerous to our personal and professional development.

"Apologizing when we have done something wrong is a real strength, but compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships."

— Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist, Medicine Revived

Apologize if you've made a mistake. But, let's get honest and detox those unnecessary apologies out of the workplace.

Why do we apologize so much?

It's ritualistic that when we do something wrong, we follow up with “sorry.” But, profusely apologizing is a sign of an empty promise. So, why do we apologize when there's nothing to apologize for?

Childhood habit. Remember frantically apologizing as a child the moment you broke something? Tara Swart, a neuroscientist, describes how serial apologists have picked up this pattern from childhood, "where one was made to feel wrong or fearful of punishment."

Fear of being offensive. Maja Jovanovic, a sociology professor and author of “Hey Ladies, Stop Apologizing and Other Career Mistakes Women Make,” found that women in particular associate apologizing to offensiveness or the fear of not being liked.

Nudging the other person to apologize. Sloane Crosley, a New York City author, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that women tend to "think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologizing."

Women apologize more, it's fact

It's no stereotype that females tend to apologize more than their male counterparts. There are many articles that address this imbalance. Scientists at the University of Waterloo found evidence to support the assumption that females are more likely to apologize than males.

This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior

— The University of Waterloo Canada, National Center for Biotechnology Information

While men and women were both willing to apologize in the case of an infraction, it was women that found more infractions to say sorry — even when it wasn't warranted.

Why you should stop saying sorry

Believe it or not, over-apologizing can lead to negative consequences. It's a powerful tool when used for the right purpose. But, what happens when you exhaust your sorry's?

Dilutes future apologies. If you’re constantly apologizing, the apology will eventually lose its meaning. Take the story of the little boy who cried wolf. Eventually, the impact of the apology will diminish.

Crushes our confidence. Saying sorry is for actual mistakes, not insecurities. Maja Jovanovic describes apologies as "confidence killers," that are adopted as habitual communication.

It can impact your professional career. Maintaining professional etiquette includes utilizing effective communication. This requires eliminating “sorry” from your vocabulary. Saying sorry too much may seem like the easy way out in difficult situations or may show a lack of accountability and indecisiveness in your duties.

Instead of "I’m Sorry," try this...

Apologizing isn't a bad thing in the workplace if you genuinely do something wrong. A strategic apology requires you to question your motives. This illustrates trust and respect. There are ways to overcome the sorry syndrome and sociologist Maja Jovanovic suggests using these alternative phrases to avoid apologizing.

Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” try:

  • “Excuse me.”
  • “Go ahead.”
  • “After you.”

If you’re running late, trade in "sorry" for gratitude:

  • “Thank you for waiting for me…”

Don't be "sorry to interrupt," but say:

  • “I’d like to add…”
  • “I have an idea….”
  • “I’d like to expand on that…”

Instead of saying “sorry to complain,” switch it to:

  • “Thank you for listening…”

Apologizing in an email, try saying:

  • “Thank you for catching that….”
  • “I appreciate you bringing this error to my attention….”
  • “Thanks for flagging this issue for me…”


We challenge you to take on our #ImNotSorry pledge, and try going five days without any unnecessary apologies. Tweet us @MatterApp under the hashtag #ImNotSorry sharing stories of when you ditched “sorry” for one of the alternative phrases.

At Matter, we want to see you professionally grow. Minimizing the word “sorry” makes us more confident and allows us to focus on growth instead of mistakes. It's time to toss out those sorry's (but keep the important ones for when you really need them). Like Beyoncé, you shouldn't be sorry! 🍋

Start Employee Recognition, Rewards, & Surveys
Free Forever. 2 Minute Setup. No Credit Card Required.
Awwards cat
Awwards cat paws
Awwards ball purple
Awwards ball blue
More in
Performance & Feedback