No! Worries if not! - beating the battle of constant apologies
The Sector > Jobs News > NO! Worries if not! – how to stop the needless apology at work and reclaim some power

NO! Worries if not! – how to stop the needless apology at work and reclaim some power

by Freya Lucas

May 12, 2023

Many of those who work in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector are drawn to the space because they are caring and compassionate people who want to make a difference, be accommodating of the needs of others, and work in harmony with their communities. 


Unfortunately this has, over time, given rise to a perception that those working in the sector are “nice people who won’t make waves”. 


A subtle way that this is reinforced is through daily interactions with senior people in the workplace, with co-workers, and with families. Consider the following examples: 


Email: Hi Jane, sorry to bother you. Have you had a chance to complete that monthly budget yet? No worries if not, it’s just that we do need to send it through to head office in the morning. Thanks! Sarah 


Phone: Hi John. Sorry to be a pest. One of the children has vomited on the floor and we need an extra pair of hands in here. Would that be ok? Thanks so much. 


Face to face: I’m so sorry I’m late for our meeting, it’s just that Sam’s Dad wanted to talk to me about his behaviour in the last few weeks and then Emily’s Mum was crying because of that incident last week, and I had to stop and deal with those things. Anyway, I’m so sorry, I hope I didn’t hold you up. 


Early childhood education and care (ECEC) is a highly feminised profession and research shows that, statistically speaking, women are known to apologise more frequently than men. Men, in turn, apologise less often because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes behaviour worth apologising for. 


While saying sorry is an important tool when genuine errors have been made, in the examples given above, an apology wasn’t warranted, and over apologising without a real reason can be detrimental to personal and professional growth. 


As neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart explains, “apologising when we have done something wrong is a real strength, but compulsive apologising presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.”


Why do excessive apologies happen? 


Saying “sorry” to make amends is a lesson many of us learn in early childhood, and often becomes a way to placate people when they are angry, to be seen as polite, or to avoid making a tense situation more complex. In essence, Dr Swart says, many people pick up the “sorry” habit because they were once made to feel wrong, or to fear punishment. 


For women, in particular, being liked and accepted is a core component of social structures, and therefore saying sorry is a barrier against not being liked.


What’s wrong with saying sorry? 


Over apologising, or apologising too often, can be detrimental. It dilutes the value of an apology, it can appear disingenuous, and it can diminish the self confidence of the speaker. 


One tip to remember is: sorry should be for actual mistakes, not for our insecurities.


For example, saying “sorry” when someone bumps into you can be a sign that you don’t feel worthy of taking up space, that you don’t deserve to be in that space, that you’re in the way, that you’re creating a disturbance and so on. 


In a professional setting, constant apologies can demonstrate a lack of accountability, lack of competence, lack of confidence, or a tendency to be indecisive…not a positive when trying to build a professional reputation. 


What to say instead


While there is always room for “sorry” in the event that you have, in fact, done something wrong, there’s also a range of alternatives that convey congeniality, understanding and professionalism. 


  • Instead of “sorry for bothering you!” try “is now a good time to talk?” or “can we catch up?” 


  • Instead of “sorry for being late!” try “thanks for waiting” or “I appreciate you being patient while I…”


  • Instead of “sorry, this is probably a stupid question but…” try “can you tell me more about that?” or “I’m not clear on… do you mind giving some more context?”


  • Instead of “sorry to have a whinge, but…” try “I need your support with…” or “I’d appreciate your advice about…”


  • Instead of “sorry for butting in, but…” try “I have something to add to that” or “One idea I had in relation to that was…”


  • In written communication, when a mistake is pointed out try “thanks for letting me know” or “thanks for flagging that with me”


Forbes Magazine, the Harvard Business Review and The News all have further hints and tips for those wishing to break the apology habit. 


Learn more about professionalism and identity in an early childhood context from Early Childhood Australia. ACECQA has also prepared some useful case studies about professionalism in a variety of ECEC contexts. 

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