I nearly didn’t write this article because I felt like a bother. Then I realised I was doing it again –apologising.
This time for my existence, but, like many women, I’ve become somewhat of a serial apologist in my time. I'm not saying men are exempt from the 'superfluously sorry’ epidemic, but according to a widely referenced study by Karina Schumann and Michael Ross, men simply have different ideas about which behaviours constitute an apology. “Sorry, do you mind if I sit there?” I asked a fellow passenger whose bag occupied an entire seat on a busy commuter train just yesterday. Then, like a whimpering fool, I expressed gratitude towards the selfish bag-spreader as they dragged the bag onto their lap to make way. This ‘Inside Amy Schumer’ sketch nails this perfectly.
But in-person is one thing, and, whilst it’s notoriously tricky to navigate our confidence in the real world, we are fortunate enough to be able to rely on our tone and body language to help us assert some authority over our thoughts. So, how does this translate to email etiquette? “No worries if not!!” “Sorry to chase!!” - a thesaurus of apologies for quite literally doing your job. But over-apologising could result in a rude awakening. These throwaway phrases may seem fairly inoffensive, but the longevity of the damage of this language to our self-worth is surprising. If you’re asking someone for something, own it. You’ve got deadlines to meet just like they do. Obviously, remain polite - some experts even suggest swapping ‘sorry’ for ‘thank you’.‘Thanks for your patience’ > ‘Sorry for the delay’.
Individual words can be equally weighty. Many of us (guilty!) use the word ‘just’ to soften the blow of what we’re about to ask for, as though we feel sorry for asking for it – before we even have! ‘Just’ minimises the importance of whatever follows it (‘I just wanted to check...’) and may result in your message falling down the priority list. Similarly, ‘actually’ (‘I’ve actually already completed that’) , are total giveaways to an underconfident emailer. You’ll instantly undersell your skillset if you sound surprised by your own productivity. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, it’s harder for others to have confidence in you. To help with the quest for perfectly worded emails which are polite, without undermining your message, ‘Just Not Sorry’, a downloadable plugin,
will review your email and underline any wishy-washy language. It currently has over 20,000 users – strength in those numbers!
Excessive punctuation can perpetuate women’s struggles in the workplace, too. Part of what drew me to advertising is the industry’s unfaltering essence of creativity married with sociability and I’d like to think I come across personable over email, as well as face-to-face! The humble exclamation mark has the power to instantly dictate an enthusiastic tone on a communication line where this is easily misconstrued. But excessive use of the humble exclamation mark can denote a frenzied sender. The quick solution, according to podcast, ‘Nobody Panic’ (a particular favourite of mine) is to stick to one exclamation mark per email
. If you use that saying ‘Hi!’, that’s your lot! Speaking on feminine email habits, Benger, a psychotherapist who works with professional women, recommends that women make a conscious effort to stand in their power and become unapologetically straightforward, “without sugarcoating, softening, or curbing that directness.”
Ever heard of mind priming? Me neither. But according to Columbia Business School professor (and mind priming developer) Adam Galinsky, practicing the technique before an important meeting or presentation makes you 60% more likely to present as ‘a leader’. The idea is that, minutes before, you write about a particular moment in which you felt particularly happy, proud or powerful and you’ll perform (and be perceived as performing) far more effectively.
Of course, from time to time, we genuinely need to hold our hands up and apologise for general wrongdoings. But “Compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.” says Tara Swart, neuroscientist, Forbes Contributor and author. In a TEDx Talk on the subject, sociologist, Maja Jovanovic, mused: "Apologies matter, but if you are beginning and ending your sentences with sorry, don't be surprised if there's nothing left of your confidence at the end of the day."
So, the trick is in deciphering what warrants an apology and what is simply taking up airtime that should be used for making logical statements and expressing authentic opinions. Will I be removing ‘sorry’ from my vocabulary entirely? Absolutely not. And I’m not sorry about that.