do I apologize to my employees too often?

A reader writes:

I’m a new manager at a company where I’ve worked for years. In trying to adjust to the role, I’m realizing that I’m the sort of person who says “sorry” a lot. I’m not always doing it to take the blame on myself; I’m often doing it because to show empathy and sometimes make a situation less confrontational. Do you think this will hurt my effectiveness if I don’t change? I think I can apologize in ways that are still appropriately firm (e.g. “I’m sorry, I know this is piling onto an already-busy week, but I need you to add X to your plate and get it done by Friday”), but am I actually undermining myself by doing this?

If it matters, I’m a man. (I hear this is a more common or more problematic issue for women.) And I’m in my mid 30’s, roughly the same age as the majority of coworkers.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee’s personal life is derailing work conversations
  • Job candidate called coworker “annoying”
  • How to support employees when they have abusive customers
  • Starting a new job when pregnant

{ 151 comments… read them below }

  1. Hello It's Me*

    #1 I never used to apologize for things — I was just saying “thank you” instead, which is the general advice.

    However… in my field, I’ve learned to apologize for everything, pretty much all the time. I never used to do it, but as a non-manager, for not apologizing, people would think I was being insubordinate.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Could you give some examples? It’s not clear when “thank you” would be more appropriate or why not saying sorry would be subordinate?

      1. Ra94*

        Yeah, this is confusing, and makes me wonder if it was more of a question of tone than word usage. I can see an issue with a non-manager saying “Please get this done for me, thanks in advance” rather than “Sorry, could you possibly help me out with X?” to a colleague, but the issue isn’t word choice but content in that case.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I’ve also been taught, “When you feel like saying ‘I’m sorry’, often the real thing you should be saying is ‘thank you,'” and the basic reason for it is that usually, the impulse to apologize is that you realize that the person is doing a thing which benefits you, and you feel unworthy of it. But your feelings of unworthiness are a low self-esteem reflex, rather than anything that’s got objective reality behind it, and the odds are that the person in question is fine with doing the thing.

          So I squelch the urge to say “I’m sorry to ask you to do X” and just substitute, “Thank you for doing X.” It makes them feel good, and acknowledges that they did a thing I appreciate without letting my own self-esteem issues get involved.

      2. Sarah N*

        Instead of “Sorry I am only getting to this email now,” you’d say “Thank you for your patience.” Instead of “Sorry you need to work late tonight,” you’d say “Thank you for working late tonight to meeting this important deadline.” etc.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          Yeah – that’s the sort of thing that would just make me angry. I’m not being patient. I’m stuck because you were late. If I am inconvenienced because of something you did wrong, I don’t want to be thanked. I want an apology.

          1. Jack Russell Terrier*

            SO much this. I really don’t like that advice. You have taken up someone’s time and you should take responsibility for that. Even if it’s not ‘your fault’ you should still apologize – you are personally holding them up.

            1. Alexander Graham Yell*

              Yeah, I think that advice is great when you’re apologizing for things that are only mildly annoying/more of a personal thing – e.g. “Thanks for letting me talk this through,” vs. “Sorry for bugging you!” when the person hasn’t shown that you’re bugging them. But if you’re making me stay late, a quick, “Sorry, I know this is annoying but we’ve got to get this out,” AND sticking around and working with me will go WAY further than, “Thanks for doing this!”

          2. tamarack and fireweed*

            I guess it really depends for me.

            If the other person did something wrong and I’m on the receiving end of it, sure, I want an apology.

            But I also see way more apologies than warranted, and some people apologize seemingly for the most commonplace request. Someone needing my help with something is normal stuff that happens as a matter of course, and sometimes may happen at a time when it’s inconvenient for me. If the inconvenience is mild and not really anyone’s fault, it’s fine to just say “thanks, I really appreciate the time you’re taking” instead of apologizing. A sincere appreciation for the effort I’m making is preferable to an apology also because the latter then requires me to accept it gracefully, or enter into a conflict. End with “I owe you one” and bring some home baked cake if it’s really egregious, rather than cringing of embarrassment.

        2. Caroline Bowman*

          hmm… the ”thank you for your patience” thing is a bit tricky. What option did the other person have? Could they have escalated it? I have been thanked for my patience, when in fact the situation had become a total circus as a result of my supposed patience. Failing to respond in a timeous manner without a stated reason is where a proper apology helps. If the person you’re thanking has literally no other choice than to wait on you, it can send them into a towering rage.

      3. hello*

        “I’m sorry we had to move the meeting back” vs “thank you for being flexible with the schedule change!”

        “so sorry for the wait, my last appointment ran long.” vs “thanks so much for your patience, my last appointment ran long”

        1. Jack Russell Terrier*

          SO much this. I really don’t like that advice. You have taken up someone’s time and you should take responsibility for that. Even if it’s not ‘your fault’ you should still apologize – you are personally holding them up.

        2. Jack Russell Terrier*

          Whoops that was for Texan in Exile above. The first one is ok because you are not personally holding the person up. I do think that if you’re late you should take responsibility for the fact that at the person has to wait for you. Even if it’s not your fault, they are still put out and left waiting because of your schedule . The ‘thank you for your patience’ is so breezy and indicates to me that my patience is more important than you being on time – because you’ve not acknowledged that what you did has left me twiddling my thumbs. The emphasis on me and my reaction not on you just leaving me sitting. It just tells me that my patience is important and that leaving me sitting there – well, you’ve been patient so ta. This is not about me, it’s about your schedule and how you deal with that. Please do not assume my feelings / reactions.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’m also curious to hear what Hello means by this (with an example). But I suspect they might work in one of those industries where subordinates must constantly apologize as a means of being subservient. Or they work with very demanding clients.

      1. Laney Boggs*

        I suspect that was why a former manager disliked me. I made an effort to thank her (rather than apologize) for any criticism/correction, and near the end of my employment I thought I caught an annoyed look on her face when I said it.
        I’d been warned she had a, quote, “I’m the boss” attitude,but it was the second non-restaurant job I’d had outside of college, and I didnt pick up til after I was fired that was my trainer’s warning to tread carefully.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          It’s interesting, I once had a manager with a very “I’m the boss” kind of approach and they explicitly told their direct reports to respond to criticisms or corrections with a thank you, because anything else could be misconstrued as not showing enough respect for the manager’s role in helping to improve our work.

      2. Hello It's Me*

        The departments I’ve been working in sort of just exist to make the executive feel like they’re important.

        In the past when I’ve not apologized for little things — even saying “Excuse me” when going in a door when someone was going out of it instead of “I’m so sorry” would add up.

        In a similar vein, instead of saying “sorry,” I would “talk back” when reprimanded and say, “Oh, OK, sure, I can do abc. In your email you said ‘do xyz’.” and then I’d be told, “Well OBVIOUSLY you’re supposed to do what I MEANT to say and not what I SAID.”

        I used to think that I would show the other person, “Hey — there’s a reason I did it this way and maybe if we can communicate better going forward, we can both be happier,” but that’s not really acceptable.

        I used to think it was just this ONE CRAZY PLACE I WORKED but it turns out, every place is like that. I’m being hired not for the work I do but for making other people feel superior. So saying “I’m sorry” is just one aspect of that. It’s a whole vibe shift and it’s hard to change one aspect of my demeanor without changing the whole rest of it.

        1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

          Seriously, though, not every place is like that! It sounds like you’ve had a series of terrible workplaces, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily obligated to take your lumps and apologize for the rest of your working life. I don’t know your specific situation, but I would strongly recommend taking a hard look at other jobs/adjacent industries/different locations to see if you could find a better fit somewhere else. Your situation sounds exhausting and demoralizing and I hope you can get out of it.

          1. Hello It's Me*

            Yeah me too. I know not every place is like that for every job, but it is for the specific kinds of jobs I’ve had. It was important for me to accept it because thinking I’m *right* just gets me fired.

            I really want to get a remote job so I can move to a better city while still having income.

        2. Aggretsuko*

          This is exactly how I feel about work, too. I’m a peon and I’m here to be abused in my “helping” profession, and apologizing constantly is just the job. I will give anybody any level of “sorries” (regardless of whether or not I actually did ANYTHING to harm them, other than working here and they have my name) just to get them to not be mad at me at this point.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          Oh, ewwww. I work for people. I’m a technical professional, not a paid submissive. As long as I do my job correctly, why should I need to grovel and kiss? I would not last long in an environment with such an insecure manager that they needed constant buttering up. If I make a mistake, I apologize and fix it. If I’m unsure, I ask. Yes, customers often need the butter, but I don’t do customer facing stuff like sales.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, as a non-manager, you really do need to show your submission to a higher power with some people.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yuck. I’m a technical professional. I don’t do well with managers who are into dominance games. It’s so high school, IMO.

    4. Jason*

      I grew up saying “I’m sorry” a lot and thinking I was being empathetic, but I had a girlfriend who used to get irritated at me and say “It’s not your fault” when I would say I was sorry for some stressful or unfortunate situation she was telling me about. In German, there’s “I’m sorry” as “Das tut mir leid” (apologies if that’s not correct; my German study was decades ago) which means “That gives me sorrow,” which is how I used to always think of “I’m sorry,” but with a lot of people the words “I’m sorry” seem like you’re admitting some kind of fault, so especially at work I just moved away from it altogether. I’ll apologize if I have to apologize, or say I understand if that’s required. When I’m around some people I still say it because I feel like culturally we grew up with the same understanding, but it’s a phrase that people can have baggage around so I just avoid it.

  2. Confused*

    #3 – the “annoying” coworker

    If the candidate mentioned the coworker was annoying without any prompting, I’d think yeah, it’s a yellow/orange flag. But employers often ask questions like, tell me about a time when you had to work with someone you didn’t like/someone challenging/etc. and while annoying isn’t the best or most professional word to use in your answer, it seems a little mean to hold it against them in an otherwise good interview, when you yourself prompted them to talk about someone they didn’t like.

    1. Goldfinch*

      Agreed. I hate the set-up of asking for complaints, then judging how well the applicant gold-plates the turd. I’d much prefer to work with someone who acknowledges the reality (people are annoying) versus someone who sugarcoats everything in bullshit.

      Of course, if that IS the actual job in question (PR, politics, et cetera) that have at it.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        OP didn’t ask for complaints though.

        “I’d asked him to describe a time when he had worked with a group to collaborate on creative approaches.”

        This question is about collaboration. OP didn’t even ask about a challenging situation. The candidate chose to talk about a situation where they had worked with someone they didn’t like.

        This said, I don’t think it’s that unusual to sometimes use a poorly chosen word without thinking, and I’d not consider this a red flag on its own.

        1. Goldfinch*

          First, I was agreeing with Confused’s point about the potential negativity in the usual general set of interview prompts.

          Second, asking about group work IS asking for complaints. There’s a reason it’s a trope, i.e., “When I die, I want the people I did group projects with to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time.”

    2. Roscoe*

      This was my thought. Its like you want them to talk about this stuff, but then want to get hung up on the language they use. Its kind of the “don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to” type thing. I mean, is “annoying” the best word? Maybe not. However, I wouldn’t say its this awful thing that should be avoided at all costs either. Everyone has had an annoying co-worker. Getting mad at someone using the term that the manager probably uses fairly often just seems like one of those power trips that hiring managers have.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The question was about a time he had worked with a group to collaborate on creative approaches — not exactly a set-up.

      In my experience, when someone describes coworkers as annoying in an interview, it’s often (not always) a flag that they find a lot of people annoying and don’t have much professional filter.

      Not always. But enough that it would give me some pause and I’d probe more.

      1. Arctic*

        That seems exactly like a set-up though. The employee was explaining how they collaborated with a widely acknowledged annoying person. An important skill.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          I agree with Alison here. Someone who actually has the skills to work with annoying people would know not to characterize them as “annoying” in a professional context. They would know that such value judgments are rarely productive in collaborative work. They would have reframed it from the get-go.

          1. Threeve*

            This–if you told me it was challenging to work in a group with a coworker who didn’t like being contradicted or wasn’t very cooperative or some other “difficult” trait AND you told me how you handled working with them successfully…I would read between the lines and assume that the coworker was indeed annoying, but I would also be impressed that you were strategic in handling them and diplomatic in describing them.

            1. TootsNYC*

              good point: “annoying” doesn’t actually mean anything except that you didn’t like them.

              And so I’d wonder, are you incapable of the nuance of choosing terms like “bad at follow-through” or “frequently testy” or “unpleasant to people lower on the org chart” or anything else?

            2. Burned Out Supervisor*

              Word. I’m looking to see if you’re able to interact professionally with people and problem solve to get work done. Instead of saying, “OMG, this woman I worked with was always talking about her personal life and was so annoying to work with” try “At my last office, I had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people who really valued developing personal relationships with each other. During group projects, I would often come prepared with an agenda to make sure we would stay on topic to get the work done. I liked to devote the first 5-10 minutes to ice breakers or chats about weekends so that the team could keep those relationships strong during a long project.”

          2. Librarian1*

            I agree. I wouldn’t call someone annoying in an interview, I’d describe the behaviors they were exhibiting and explain how that made it difficult to do my job and then talk about how I dealt with it. I wouldn’t use “annoying.” And I definitely wouldn’t just call someone annoying out of nowhere in the context of describing a time I’ve worked collaboratively.

        2. CL Cox*

          But I wouldn’t describe a co-worker (or even a client) as “annoying” in an interview. I’d use more professional language – “difficult to work with,” or the like. And only if I could then highlight how I handled it successfully. “I recently worked with a group of teapot designers on implementing a new design; I had been warned that one designer was resistant to changes, so I met with them ahead of time and asked them to assist with training everyone on the new design. Not only did they embrace the change, they’ve actually been moved into a supervisory role because they did such a great job with training and mentoring the other designers.”

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            While I too would use the “difficult” language, at this point we are complaining that the interviewee didn’t use the best euphemism.

            1. Oh No She Di'int*

              No, we’re highlighting the fact that the interviewee may–may–not be aware of professional business norms. That’s beyond not using the “best euphemism”; it’s indicating that you don’t know the difference between a blanket value judgment and a behavior-based characterization that nevertheless leaves room for some productive outcome.

              Someone who says “She was known to be annoying” is potentially a very different kind of employee from someone who says, “She was difficult to work with because she tended to ignore the schedules that everyone spent so much time putting together.”

            2. Aquawoman*

              I don’t view “annoying” and “difficult” as the same thing, though. Difficult suggests that they posed a true obstacle to the work; annoying suggests something minor and interpersonal, like they laughed too loud.

        3. Buttons*

          Here is how you word it “I was asked to work with a team that had a uncomfortable working relationship. I was able to work around that and get the job done by remembering and point out to the other team members that if we remember that we all have good intentions, it will allow us to identify the communication gaps more quickly and effectively.”

        4. 1234*

          But “explaining a time where he had worked with a group to collaborate…” could’ve easily been a story of “I collaborated with the Teapot Department on Project Y and overall, it was a successful project” rather than bringing up “annoying” when the interviewer never asked about difficult coworkers.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        But he might have understood the question to be about a particularly challenging collaboration. After all, “There was that time where my collaborators and I all loved each other. We clicked instantly, and were so in tune with each other that we barely had to speak.” probably isn’t what the interviewer was looking for.

        Yes, there are people who complain about everyone around them. And yes, I wouldn’t want to hire that person. I just don’t think that we have evidence of that here, if this one anecdote is the only instance. I think he took the question as being about a difficult situation, and the difficulty in his situation was the annoying coworker.

      3. Burned Out Supervisor*

        Ooh, I agree with this. Almost every interview I’ve sat in on where the candidate has bad-mouthed their employer or their coworkers has ended up being a problem. I would definitely probe more.

    4. Close Bracket*

      Mm, I’m on the fence. Even when asked about a time when someone was challenging, I don’t describe them in value-laden terms. I describe the behavior. However, I do this bc I know that using labels like that will result in my being judged as the difficult one. So maybe it’s enough of a yellow flag to find out whether they are just not aware of how other people respond to words like that.

    5. Emily S*

      This is also a good illustration of how important it is to make the right impression when a potential employer has very few data points to evaluate you on. The LW says that the candidate “kept referring to a coworker as annoying” and then clarifies that it was said twice. A lot of inexperienced people might not realize how saying something iffy like that twice in a single brief interview when that’s their only contact with you is going to have an outsized impact compared to how it might come across to someone who had more to go on.

    6. kittymommy*

      Yeah. If it is a prelude to explaining how I worked through a difficult situation at work (which it sounds like may have been the question), this seems rather reasonable, albeit maybe not the best word to choose.

  3. Arctic*

    I’m not sure the use of annoying is that unprofessional in the context provided in the letter (although I certainly think it would be in other contexts.) “‘She was known to be annoying’ when I’d asked him to describe a time when he had worked with a group to collaborate on creative approaches.”

    Having to collaborate with annoying coworkers is a reality for everyone at some point. Even the annoying co-worker has an annoying coworker. The most saintly person who has ever held a job has an annoying coworker. How you do that professionally and with grace is relevant to any potential job.

    I get that you can use more acceptable synonyms. But it’s just dancing around the same thing.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      I actually do find the use of the word “annoying” as presented in the letter to be problematic. The candidate was asked about collaborating on creative approaches. If I had asked the question in an interview, I’d expect the candidate to take the opportunity to talk about what a great team player they are, how they contributed to the process, and the great outcome of having put their heads together.

      Saying “she was known to be annoying” has an oddly blame displacing ring to it. Almost like: “She was annoying and everybody says so. So if there were any conflicts between us, don’t go looking too hard into how I might have contributed to the situation because after all, she was known to be annoying.”

      One reason it’s bad policy to badmouth former colleagues and employers is because the interviewer generally has very little information to go on, and all the information they’re getting is from someone who has every motivation in the world to misrepresent it. There’s no way you can hear a complaint about a former colleague and it not go through your head that “Hmm… maybe YOU were the problem.”

      1. CL Cox*

        I think “annoying” is also too general a term. You need to be more specific, because what you find to be annoying may be perfectly acceptable to another person. But if you can name the issue (“they refused to participate in meetings or conference calls”), then it’s more obvious that the issue was with the other person and not just you overreacting.

        1. Annony*

          I agree that it is too vague. “they were annoying” doesn’t really tell you why they were difficult to work with. Did they not pay attention and misunderstand things? Did they keep going off on tangents causing everything to be delayed? Did they not follow though and do the work? A subjective word like annoying makes me wonder if they just had a personality clash.

        2. Heidi*

          Agreed. It would have been more helpful to the interviewer for the applicant to list the behaviors that were objectionable. If she constantly cooked fish in a giant stew pot on her desk, it would be a very different story than if she found numerous errors that he had made even though both would be annoying. I think it would also have been more informative to focus on how the coworker’s behavior affected the work rather than how it made him feel.

        3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          Ja, annoying is the same as “I was annoyed by them”. It does demonstrate that you can’t differentiate between someone’s objectively challenging behaviour (they derail meetings and take inaccurate minutes) and your possibly irrelevant emotional reaction to them (they eat too loudly and look like your father in law).

          1. Sparrow*

            Yes, I think that’s why the use of annoying would strike me oddly, as well. It seems like a much more personal and subjective evaluation than than something like, “They are difficult to work with.”

            1. Close Bracket*

              “Difficult to work with” is also quite personal and subjective. One person’s “difficult” means “they don’t look stuff up for me in the database that only they have access to,” while another person’s difficult means “they don’t look stuff up for me that I am perfectly capable of looking stuff up on my own.” Any kind of value-laden label is more about the user’s emotional reaction than it is about the behavior.

              1. Oh No She Di'int*

                That’s true. And that’s why it would be important to describe the behavior you are characterizing as “difficult to work with”.

      2. River Song*

        I’m wondering if it’s only me who feels like “she’s annoying” is one of those dismissive phrases some men use toward women they dont like in general. Like “she’s a b****” or “she’s crazy” (I’ve told my husband before that when a man says “she’s crazy” my brain automatically translates it into.”she wont put up with my crap”)
        Not that women can’t be annoying, but it would definitely be a flag for me. Which is a good reason to use more professional language and describe the actual problem, not the perception of the person

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Agreed. That may or may not be the case here. But the mere fact that it could be the case is enough reason to be extremely circumspect and–as you say–describe the problem not the perception.

        2. Merci Me*

          Yes. Especially coming from a younger man, I would side-eye that phrase hard. IME, it often means “I’m sexist but she’s too good at her job to minimize her from that angle, so I’m going to justify choosing not to work collaboratively with her by accusing her of something she can’t defend against and can’t resolve through effort or skill.”.

          … I might be a little bitter, though.

    2. designbot*

      I guess I disagree with the notion that it’s just about the right word choice. Why did the interviewer need to know that this coworker was known as being annoying? What did that add to the story? Would he have worked with her differently if she were less annoying? Or does he want bonus points for working with an annoying person?

    3. OrigCassandra*

      I agree that Annoying People Are Annoying. The reason I don’t use the word in situations like this is that the person I’m talking to is likely to wonder if I also think they are annoying.

      This isn’t a thing I want that person to think, so I use either specifics (as also discussed in this thread) or a less-fraught word.

      It is dancing, I agree with that as well, but it’s dancing for a reason.

  4. Zona the Great*

    I have left jobs because the boss not only didn’t stick up for me in the moment but also because they acquiesced to an abusive customer after the fact. I was screamed at as a bank teller by a woman who was livid that I didn’t see her toddler in the backseat and offer him a sucker after the transaction. The boss made me apologize and then bent over backwards to make her happy without a single word that she had called me the C-word for not giving out a sucker. We can afford to lose customers like that.

    1. Reality Check*

      I walked off a job in the middle of the shift when a customer called me the C word & boss wouldn’t back me up.

  5. Kiki*

    #4 I think another great thing to do is proactively give some examples of behaviors employees don’t need to deal with on their own and some tips for getting your attention/ creating an excuse to call you over. When you’re new to customer service, a lot of customer behavior is new and shocking– in the moment most people won’t come up with a good way to handle it.

    And since you mentioned that a lot of your employees are high school girls, unfortunately you should probably address what to do if a customer is making them feel unsafe, is following them around or staring at them, or has asked what time they’re leaving work. Offer to walk them to their car after their shift or stay in the back room until the creep has left the mall. Let them know you’ll be looking out for inappropriate behavior as well– I really appreciated when managers would notice a man being inappropriate and ask him to leave before I even had to indicate I was uncomfortable.

    1. Kiki*

      I should add that harassment by customers can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, etc and it should be addressed with all employees. I flagged it for high school girls because my personal experience in retail indicates that it’s especially common for young women to be on the receiving end of these behaviors

      1. Threeve*

        And young people in general have a certain resistance to asking for help, IME. Teens are self-conscious when it comes to seeming independent and competent, and I think school also tends to train people to think that assistance from authority figures only takes place in specific and prearranged situations.

      2. TootsNYC*

        and I think it’s also likely that high school girls won’t have developed strategies or confidence for handling these situations.

        I think one of the reasons older women don’t get hassled as much is because there’s an expectation that they’ve figured out how to not take any shit. (In addition to the change in stereotypical physical attractiveness.)

    2. Retro*

      I second this! I worked in food service as a high schooler and thought a lot of rude or creepy behavior just came with the job, so I never mentioned it much to my managers. It didn’t help that the people around me either felt the same way or largely ignored the issues. Now, I realize that a lot of that behavior was something I had every right to bring up.

      As a manager you can set the tone that you are willing to advocate on their behalf and intervene when there is something wrong.

    3. Threeve*

      Very good points! And it’s also okay for a manager to open a conversation after an incident like that honestly: “I haven’t encountered that situation before and it took me by surprise.”

    4. Retail not Retail*

      I had a customer creep me out so much and none of my managers supported me. He was also straight up robbing this old lady and her son said stop cashing these checks but the manager still did it!

      I will say that while they disagreed about creepiness (i answered the phone after a day off and it was like 9:30pm And heard “i missed you last night” slammed that down hard.) they didn’t make me serve him (i barricaded myself in the accounting room when he came in, and didn’t object to my very very very distinctive bike being in the second story breakroom instead of out front.

  6. Ptarmigan*

    #1: My boss apologies to me a lot and it makes me nervous. The other day, she pinged me on IM, starting with “Sorry, but quick question,” and then, once I’d answered her, ended the conversation with, “Sorry again, thank you.” It makes me worry that I come across as a prima donna, or unapproachable, or annoyed at being asked routine questions or whatever.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You can ask your colleagues if she does that to them too, then you’d know it’s just her way of speaking and that she’s not walking on eggshells just for you!

      My boss speaks this way to everyone, so I know he’s not tiptoeing. I did find out that he had his head bit off by someone years ago and had to wonder if that’s why he’s so extra. But it’s not personal, so I just smile at it anymore.

      I have other folks who no matter how hard I try will always start off with “Sorry to bother you but can I ask you something?” and my go to is always “You’re not bothering me. What can I do?” So when says “sorry” just respond with “no worries!” and punctuate the end of the conversation with that to keep getting your point across.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I hate when my SUBORDINATES apologize for interrupting me.
      I end up scrutinizing my interactions, and my tone, etc., to figure out how I’m coming across.

    3. Snoop*

      In my small company, one of our VPs (the only woman) always starts and ends requests with sorry. It drives me nuts but I can’t mention it because of power dynamics. She’s also pretty… strict on certain things (like having butts in seats at exact start time, time off requests, etc) that I am not so we have butted heads a few times.

  7. J*

    The last letter writer really should have negotiated maternity leave at the time of the job offer. I’m shocked she didn’t! As a new employee, she doesn’t qualify for FMLA even if the company is otherwise large enough to be covered under it. It’s possible that this varies by state, though, and states other than mine may have additional requirements for minimum leave. But at a federal level, she is not entitled to 12 weeks because she hasn’t been with the company 50 weeks at the time the baby is born.

    I think she should call, not email, and explain that she is pregnant and negotiate how much leave she can take. In her shoes, I would certainly want to know ahead of time if the company will only grant 4-6 weeks so that I can make childcare arrangements.

    1. Fikly*

      That’s a good way to get an offer pulled with the company claiming a reason other than her being pregnant.

      1. Sarah N*

        But her job isn’t protected anyway. She could easily work out the next 4 months at the job and then be afforded zero leave beyond whatever PTO she has accrued (maybe 4-8 days??), which is obviously not enough leave after giving birth. Therefore it makes sense to negotiate it and find that out rather than being fired with a week-old baby and no recourse.

        1. J*

          Right. The way the letter was written, it sounds like she is assuming she will be granted leave. When in fact, that is not guaranteed at all.

          1. Annony*

            I was wondering the same thing. Maybe she is from another country that has better maternity leave protection.

            1. Sarah N*

              I hope so! Even at my job where I would consider our leave policy pretty good, if you take leave in your first year you have to work there for a full year afterward or pay back your full salary and benefits for that period. And at my husband’s job, there is zero paid maternity/paternity leave beyond accued PTO and short-term disability (for the birth parent) — everything else is unpaid. And that isn’t even just in the first year — that’s no matter how long you’ve been there (although you may have more PTO if you’ve been there longer).

        2. TootsNYC*

          she’d get short-term disability leave, probably, plus any PTO she had accumulated.

          Lots of people make that work.

          1. Sarah N*

            Not all companies offer short-term disability. Hence why it would have been good to discuss this at the offer stage.

          2. Bear Shark*

            Not necessarily on short-term disability. Some policies don’t cover pregnancy-related leave if you’re already pregnant when you start coverage under the policy.

        3. Fikly*

          Yes, but if she would have had the offer pulled, now she has employement for x months until giving birth, as opposed to no employment before giving birth. It’s all about evaluating the risk potential.

          To say it makes no sense is judging a situation you know very little about.

    2. TootsNYC*

      yes, I felt that was missing from Alison’s answer. I get that she can’t go back in time, but it will absolutely color how her situation is perceived. I’d be mad.

      I mean, I get that it wouldn’t change anything to have the conversation immediately after the offer and before the acceptance, but I’d just feel a little deceived.
      And I’d have wanted to make the inquiries about leave, etc., in advance.

      For one thing, maybe the company won’t grant it–would that change whether she would have accepted the job? So that would frustrate me.
      And it’s also something she should have in mind as a possibility as she moves forward.

      1. Fikly*

        You might be mad, but your anger would be completely unresaonable, and any change in your behavior toward her would be illegal.

        She has no obligation to disclose a pregnancy during a hiring process. Your desire to be told that someone you might hire is pregnant is unreasonable. Someone not giving you the opportunity to discrimminate against them is not decieving you.

        1. Turquoisecow*


          If she discloses pregnancy she’d just open herself up to not being hired for that reason. Which would be illegal, but happens anyway.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*


          Often people might not know they are pregnant, too. One gal where I used to work either didn’t realize or hid that she was pregnant right up until she went into labor!

      2. MD*

        What would happen if the company didn’t grant leave? (I’m in Canada, so I don’t understand the American system). She can’t not have her baby. I’ve never been pregnant or given birth, but I assume you need a few days to physically do that and recover. Could the company fire her for not showing up to work?

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

          Depends on the company and the state. They could–if in an at will state–simply terminate the position. They can also work with OP for a few weeks and then terminate with no reason needed.

      3. BasicWitch*

        What exactly is a pregnant person supposed to do then? There’s no way to win here. Presumably OP needed this job. If she’s in the US, she may need it for the insurance. Maybe she was unemployed or underemployed and needs every penny for impending parenthood. Maybe she’s single. Maybe her last job was terribly stressful, which would be bad for her and the baby. Who knows?

        Point is, society doesn’t exactly make pregnancy any easier. I take no issue with people who try to navigate a broken system and put their own interests first, because nobody else is going to make it the priority.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        From the content of the letter I took it that she intentionally omitted this information to prevent them from using in their hiring decision, even though they’re not supposed to. Even absent a time machine, that says she wouldn’t have told them beforehand anyway, lest she not get the job in the first place. They’re not allowed to factor it in so it’s very reasonable for her not to tell them in advance to prevent them from being able to illegally discriminate against her for it. It seems she did the math already that getting the job now was most important at this stage.

  8. Fikly*

    An employee being upset/anxious about being on a PIP is not your problem.

    The employee having performance problems to the point where they need to be on a PIP is your problem.

  9. SugarFree*

    Re #1, my boss doesn’t say sorry all the time, but they over use Thank You. Thank you for replying to that email. Thank you for doing normal task A. Thank you for doing normal task B. Thank you for asking a question about XYZ. It is very constant. I know they appreciate me , but I don’t need to hear it all day long or receive a thank you for every email.

    1. LlamaGoose*

      Personally, I find “thank you” to be less annoying than “sorry,” although I’m not totally sure why. I guess as a kid I was always told to say “please” with every request, and “thank you” after the task was done, even for something where that’s someone’s job (ordering food at a restaurant, asking a retail employee to help me find something, etc). So, please and thank-you just seems neutral to me.

      I do think it’s a regional/cultural thing, though. Like, I used to find lack of please and thank-you to be mildly rude, but now I don’t.

      Whereas sorry when it’s not an apology can strike me as passive-aggressive, even if, again, that’s just a regionalism. I try to actively mentally re-adjust my impression, but that one is harder. To my mind, sorry is an apology, and part of an apology is not repeating the action you’re apologizing for. When someone says something like, “I’m sorry for adding an extra assignment at the last minute like this,” I mentally think, “but not sorry enough to not do it.”

      Which, I know it’s just a regional difference. I know in that case the manager means, “I sympathize with the stress or frustration you might feel now that you have to do this task.” And that’s just cluncky to say. So, I know my knee-jerk mental framing of “sorry” in that context is something I need to adjust.

      1. Leisel*

        I see where you’re coming from. I’m the same way! When I worked in sales I actually started to get annoyed with myself for saying sorry, but that seemed to be what customers wanted to hear. When I left sales I made a conscious effort to transition to saying “I hate that…” instead of saying “sorry.” As in, “I hate that this is going to be a pain, but we’ve got to return all these llama brushes.” I’ve learned not to apologize if there’s nothing I’ve done wrong or could have done differently. If I say I’m sorry, it’s because I’m acknowledging I made a mistake.

    2. Filosofickle*

      In one of my first professional jobs I was thanked constantly, for everything I did, every day. It struck me as super weird. Why were they always thanking me for being competent and doing my job?

      Looking back 20+ years later, I wish I’d been more graceful about it and just said a cheery “you’re welcome” back instead of grumbling to myself. I was an exceptional employee, and they were genuinely grateful every day for the ways I contributed. All those affirmations weren’t necessary, but they were kind. They wanted to know how much I was appreciated. I’d love to have that back now.

      1. Filosofickle*

        OTOH, there are times I do still roll my eyes at excessive affirmations. I had a client team that fell over themselves to validate everything anyone said in meetings. I’d hear a dozen variations of “Jane makes such a great point!” or “Thank you so much for bringing that up, Nancy” and most of the time I could tell they weren’t even listening. It was very performative.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        When I was younger and more junior, no one thanked me. One time I put in extra time to make sure something got done, and the first thing the manager did the next day was yell at me for doing what he asked!!

        Even as a coworker, I don’t want to be like those people. Even if I don’t particularly like someone, I will still say “Please” and “Thank you”.

  10. Betty*

    #1 It sounds like the LW wants to come across as polite and respectful, rather than simply issuing orders. That’s good! There’s a very easy way to do this, though – say “please” and “thank you” instead of sorry! It’s good to acknowledge when you’re giving a lot of work, but try: “I know this is piling onto an already-busy week, but please could you add X to your plate. It needs to be done by Friday. Thank you!” In Alison’s usual pleasant, matter-of-fact tone so it doesn’t accidentally come across as optional.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Only nitpick here is that unless it’s an option don’t include the “could you”. That opens another gate if you’re adding something that’s nonnegotiable which is often a factor in these things, which leads to the temptation to apologize for just tossing another rock on someone’s pile.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I read a very interesting labor history about the effects of widespread college education in the US and other western countries. Essentially, the point was that massive increases in education produced a class of people who expected to be asked or persuaded to do things rather than told to do things. Thus the rapid increase in bosses using phrases like “would you mind” and “could you please” as somewhat awkward workarounds.

        1. Narvo Flieboppen*

          And there’s a few idiots out there like some of my relatives, who assume everyone has to politely ask them to do anything or they can (and will) refuse. For example, complaining at Army basic training that the drill sergeant keeps ‘ordering’ them to do stuff instead of ‘asking’. Like, duh, what did you expect when you joined the FREAKING ARMY???

          Basically, just saying it doesn’t have to be highly educated professionals who expect to be asked. Straight up narcissists respond that way, too.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            Yeah, not judging that one way or the other. But yes, the point of the labor history was that the increase in education led to an overall cultural shift.

      2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        I also think that if you as the boss are piling on more work and giving a non negotiable deadline, there needs to be a conversation about whether the work can actually be completed properly. Saying sorry or thank you doesn’t compensate for giving your employee an impossible workload.

  11. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Abusive customers come with the territory in every job, sadly you get the most in a retail setting though.

    My former bosses always answered two ways. Give your employees power to decline to help someone if they’re being abusive. They are allowed to remove themselves and retreat to safety. They then alert management who will eject the person from the store if necessary.

    They also did exactly what you did, tell me that I did the right thing. That they have my back. And that I handled it well for the situation.

    My first boss ever told me “Some people are just bad people. This isn’t your fault.” to remind me that you cannot please everyone and that their reaction doesn’t mean you did a darn thing wrong in the first place. Rude people exist and they are just miserable humans who poison the rest of us with their misery when given the chance.

    One of my bosses even took over an account and told a perma client that they were never to speak to anyone but him again. “I can’t tell you how to speak to your staff, even though you suck at that too. But you cannot ever speak to my staff like that or I’ll cut you out of our arrangement.”

    Now that I’m in leadership, I just have the authority to cut someone off and tell them that we won’t do business with anyone who treats us poorly.

    1. Leisel*

      I had a boss back me up once when a client was being really disrespectful to me. Over the phone, she insisted she had placed an order weeks prior, but I didn’t have an record of it. I kept looking back thinking I had missed an email, scanned through my junk inbox in case it went there by accident, but still no record of anything. I told her there was a long lead time, but I would call to ask about expedition. She was so angry all she wanted to do was yell at me, even though I kept telling her I would see what I could do. She just kept yelling, so I sat quietly for several minutes until she took a breath and I calmly said, “I know you’re upset, but I can’t make any calls to see what I can do if you insist on keeping me on the line just to yell at me.” She wanted to talk to my manager, so I put her on hold and started to get up to walk to his office next door, but he was already standing in my doorway. He came over, picked up the line and told her she should start placing her orders elsewhere.

      Sometimes crappy things happen, by mistake or just by bad circumstance, but no one should have to put up with abuse from a customer. I really appreciated that he was willing to lose that sale if it meant his employee would be better off. A true leader stands up for their team. Plus, she was a demanding customer and didn’t spend enough money with us to warrant all the time we had to spend pleasing her. Good riddance!

  12. Essess*

    I took a self-help course and they stressed not to say “I’m sorry” unless it was something that was actually your fault because you have now accepted ownership of the problem. If you want to commiserate, then you say “That’s unfortunate.”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yikes. “That’s unfortunate” is ice cold in a lot of situations. That’s not a good alternative at all.

      That’s taught to some people in business because of liability purposes though. So it’s what bred the “I understand your frustration” instead of “I’m sorry” in many CSR scripts.

      1. Potato Girl*

        I agree, it works for some cases, like “I forgot my lunch”-level of problems, but it’d be chilly or even rude for problems like “just found out my spouse is cheating.” In which case I usually go with, “Oh no, how awful!”

      2. Tobias Funke*

        Yeah, that’s seriously some human call center language. It’s totally okay to say, wow, I am so sorry to hear that! And it doesn’t mean you’ve “taken ownership” of the “problem”.

        1. Leisel*

          Even though they’re similar, there’s a difference in saying, “I’m sorry to hear that happened…” and “I’m sorry that happened…” My dad would always say, “What do YOU have to be sorry about, you didn’t do it.”

          I’ve taken to saying, “I hate to hear that. What an awful situation.”

      3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Actually, I’ve started saying “I understand your frustration” to my daughter instead of I’m sorry. It acknowledges what she’s feeling while also letting her know that some things are just how life is, and nobody’s fault.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Agree. I use phrases like, “Yeah, that must be really hard to deal with.” Acknowledge the difficulty. Express understanding. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t take blame for it.

      4. Fikly*

        So actually, “I’m sorry,” is not a terribly helpful thing to say in empathetic communication, especially when you are not the one responsible for the situation, outside of social norms like “I’m sorry for your loss.”

        This comes up in my job a ton, and it’s a hard habit to break! But saying “I’m sorry you’re in pain” really is not helpful to the person. Like, great, you’re sorry, what good does that do me other than make me feel like now my pain has hurt you?

        Also avoid using “understand” because no one can ever actually understand anyone else’s situation, because we are not in that situation. Instead, mirror language, and try “it sounds.” So for example, “That sounds really painful,” or “That sounds incredibly stressful. Anyone going through half of that would be struggling.”

        But before I derail further, agree that “that’s unfortunate” is a terrible phrase. Can you sound less like you care?

        1. Avasarala*

          That seems like distinction without a difference. “That sounds really stressful.” It is! So… we are in the same place as if you had “I’m sorry you’re stressed” or not said anything. “Anyone would be struggling”… is it really more helpful to compare?

          I’ve even had training to avoid labeling situations like “That sounds painful” because they might not think it’s that painful until you said that. Which makes no sense to me. Neither does “no one can ever actually understand anyone else’s situation”…this seems philosophical to the point of uselessness. No one’s situation is so unique that it can’t be understood. “I’m sorry” doesn’t accept responsibility any more than “That’s awful” means you are filled with awe.

          I think it’s valuable to acknowledge someone’s feelings and show empathy, but I don’t think any of these common empathetic phrases are magically better or worse. All we’re doing is removing context and tone and reducing them to their literal meanings.

          1. Fikly*

            Well, it’s different because it’s validating the feeling. Validation and normalizing is incredibly important. Typically the feeling word you choose is one that is reflecting what they’ve said to you. Sorry is not a feeling they would have used when speaking to you.

            And then the next sentence is about what you are going to do to help, be it listen to them vent, or something more active.

    2. Canuck*

      Oh boy, as a Canadian I don’t think we could stop saying “I’m sorry”!

      We even have Apology Legislation because we say sorry in all the wrong situations.

      1. Tehanu*

        I was coming on here to say that the LW should join us in Canada, where we say sorry if it’s snowing too hard! (My favourite joke about Canadians: Q – “How do you find the Canadian in the room?” A – “Start stepping on everyone’s toes until someone apologizes that their feet are in the way.”)

        I actually don’t mind “sorry,” even if it’s more of a verbal tick than anything. There’s an element of us all being in it together that I find that it can convey.

  13. Richard Hershberger*

    Apologetic boss: The apologetic form is a problem because it can be interpreted so many ways. But an acknowledgement that you have just given someone extra work is often in order. I worked as a department manager in a Walmart in a previous life. I came away from the experience decidedly unenchanted with the organization. But I did have one boss I respected. I once walked into work one morning and he told me “I’m going to screw you over today.” He then pulled me from my usual duty, for which I was going to simultaneously held responsible while affirmatively forbidden to actually fulfill said responsibility. He wasn’t doing this for grins and giggles, but due to other pressing needs. Telling me the way he did was not an apology. That would imply he had another possible course of action. But it acknowledged that he understood what he was doing. That mattered a lot to me. I would take that any day over the happy-talk boss who is smarmy as he screws you over.

  14. PNW Jenn*

    My 8yo son is the consummate apologizer, and it makes us nuts. Every response is “I’m sorry”, from getting eggshells in the cookie dough to getting a rain forecast. I’m working with him on reframing “I’m sorry” into an acknowledgement of having heard what was said. Examples:

    Me: I see that you got egg shell in the cookie dough.
    Him: Can you show me how to get it out?

    Him: I’m sorry it rained today. -Instead- What a bummer that it rained today and we couldn’t go kayaking.

    Think about ways to demonstrate that you’ve heard what someone says in a way that doesn’t use the words “I’m sorry.” Doing so will give your apologies actual meaning when they’re warranted.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      This is helpful, thanks. My daughter also apologises excessively and I’m not sure where this behaviour comes from :-/ possibly from me doing the same thing without actually being aware of it

    2. Tina*

      I did this too, and nobody ever said a word, just assumed it was either my personal default (strangers/colleagues), or the default (within my family). About three-fourths of all conversations I had with my father were about something I had done or said either wrong, or in a way he didn’t approve of, and he always expected an apology so I learned pretty young to apologize first and ask questions later.
      It took until I started karate at the age of 22 (late, I know) and had a conversation with the sensei that went something like this:
      Me (messes up a kata I had that day started learning): Oh no, sorry, sorry, can I start over?
      Him: What are you apologizing for?
      Me (has never been asked this question before): Messing… up?
      Him: Why?
      Me: Wasting… your time?
      Him: You are aware this is literally the entire point of my being here, right? Stop apologizing. You can’t fix anything while you’re apologizing. Messing up and starting over is using both our time productively. This? This is wasting my time.
      I haven’t had a perfect record since then, but I’ve done a lot better.

      1. Anonosaurus*

        I once had a yoga teacher who banned the phrase “I’m sorry” when one fell out of a pose or made a mistake. He would encourage us to say instead “I’m sexy” – I guess you had to be there, it was funny but it made the point that apologising to the teacher for not being perfect wasn’t necessary :)

  15. StaceyIzMe*

    For LW 2, whose employee is nattering on about personal difficulties- it really does sound like she is deflecting. In your shoes, I’d stop the meetings. They aren’t productive in their current form. I’d go with written feedback and a few emails and a FIRM suggestion to find solutions for her performance deficits on the professional front. You want to spell out for her exactly where she is at. It sounds like she’s thinking “I’ve got reasons for my stuff so I don’t have to fix my stuff”. Whereas, obviously, she’s kidding herself. You could try telling her that systems are perfectly designed to produce the output that they generate. In other words, if she wants her personal or professional life to be different, SHE’S the one who is going to have to invest the focus, energy, agency and imagination to begin to make some real changes. Is she in pain? Sure. Your role doesn’t, obviously, include trying to assuage that by discussing it in depth. (Especially about her personal life!) At this juncture, it would be kinder to put the fear of God and possible job loss into her. Maybe it will shake her loose from her current rut. In all likelihood, it may not. Unfortunately.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      I don’t think I would cancel the meetings. OP needs to manage the meetings more effectively, as Alison suggests. Cancelling the meetings is a tacit acknowledgement that OP can’t keep a conversation with their direct report on track. And it also would not do to have the employee say that OP refused to meet with them, especially if it comes to terminating them. If the employee won’t stick to the topic, tell her that you’re going to leave the room for 10 minutes while she regains her focus on the work issues. This will make it very clear that OP won’t participate in a discussion of her personal life. It sounds really harsh but OP has already given a lot of assistance and support, and the employee is most certainly taking advantage to avoid dealing with her performance issues.

  16. TootsNYC*

    it frustrates me when bosses apologize very much, because it’s their job to arrange things so that there’s no need for anyone to apologize.

    It’s kind of like those city council members who knelt for the Pledge of Allegiance during the NFL/kneeling controversy. I was infuriated: Get up on your feet and go DO something about this! You are the very people who are being protested TO! Do your job.

  17. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    May I please have a moment to say how SICK I am of businesses constantly apologizing?

    It’s everywhere. The recorded train announcement apologizes for the inconvenience that another train is ahead of us — why? The recording that picks up when I call the pharmacy apologizies that I have to wait because another customer called in before me and I need to wait two minutes — why? I had to call customer service about a problem with a device, and the rep on the phone kept tripping over herself apologizing that I had to call. WHY? That call was five times longer than it had to be because she had to say “I apologize” literally sixteen times (I counted). I wanted to yell at her to stop apologizing already and just do the thing, but I didn’t because for all I know then she’d get yelled at by her manager because she’d pissed off a client.

    How did we get here? How, as a society, did we get to a place where the minor inconveniences of life, like having to wait politely for the perfectly normal customer ahead of us, are now such Grave Travesties that we must be eternally placated?

    I mean, I know why — fear of lawsuits — but still. It’s so infantilizing. I don’t need a machine to apologize to me because other trains exist. I don’t need a machine to explain that weather happened (I live in Chicago, for god’s sake, OF COURSE weather happened) and apologizing that we’ll be getting into the station a whole two minutes later (Zounds! The sky shall fall!) and then apologizing that the stairs might be wet (wth?!) so I need to be extra careful (shut up, Mom).

    I do not believe that the normal, regular experiences of life need apology. Not sorry for saying it.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      We got here because people/businesses/agencies/etc messed up, made us wait ridiculous amounts of time on the phone for customer service, made solving a small problem an endless round of getting punted to another office, etc etc and THEN nobody acknowledged what a freakin PITA we’d been put through and didn’t bother to even pretend to apologize, so THEN instead of feeling acknowledged and sympathized with, NOW we’re pissed off and we’re never going into that store again/escalating complaints up the food chain/taking people to court.

      Thus, apologies. They smooth us down. Even me, and I’m cranky as hell when I have to deal with the inevitable PITA..

    2. Not really a waitress*

      30 years ago I lived in DC metro. I listened to a popular morning radio show cohosted by two guys whose line was “we are fat, we are white, we are catholic, and we are sick about it.” They pulled the regular morning show pranks. One was trying to find big name musical acts in their hotel rooms when they came to town and calling them. One time they pranked called a pretty big name singer/entertainer. It was standard stuff but This singer got pissed. So pissed, that when their radio station set up their little promo table at the concert that night, his people made them leave. So pissed his people complained to the station. Who then insisted the two DJS apologize. They spent the next show only playing songs that had the words “sorry” or “apologize” and they changed their tag line to “we are fat, we are white, we are catholic and we are sorry” for the day. And they never played that particular singer again. And we are talking a pretty big name who is recognizable to this day. But when ever I hear someone over apologize or apologize for something stupid this is what I hear in my head.

  18. WantonSeedStitch*

    I have been trying to eradicate unnecessary “sorries” from my communication too. In the example of piling on more work for a busy person, I think something like “I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, but I need to ask you to do X as well. I really appreciate your flexibility!” works well. And then a sincere thank you when they complete X. And most importantly, try not to put them in a similar situation again (certainly not soon) if I can avoid it.

    Times when I do say “sorry” are times when I messed up (“I’m sorry, I knew this assignment would be coming in soon, but I forgot to let you know in advance,” or when something bad happens to a report that they in no way deseved (“I’m sorry that $client was so unprofessional toward you in their e-mail. I’m going to have a talk with $boss about the best way to communicate to $client that this is NOT acceptable behavior.”)

    In general, I try to acknowledge less-than-ideal situations (“I know things are busy/I know we haven’t been able to change that annoying policy/I know it’s last minute”) and thank people for handling them well (“Thank you for your flexibility/for the quick turnaround/for your patience”) instead of apologizing.

  19. pegster*

    OP1 – I think it’s partly cultural how people respond to “sorry”. I’ve heard fellow Canadians automatically say “sorry” when bumping into inanimate objects. Personally I love it and don’t see it as undermining but just an admission that we’re all in this together and will muddle through somehow.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      It’s interesting that you mention this – I’m Canadian, born and raised, so sorry is a pretty well-baked part of my vocabulary. The people I encounter here who take issue with the automatic “sorry” are invariably folks who were raised elsewhere.

    2. Leisel*

      Ha! This reminds me of someone bumping into a mannequin, apologizing, realizing it’s a mannequin, then saying, “Oh sorry, I thought you were a person,” then realizing they just apologized to a mannequin AGAIN.

  20. Me*

    Ugh apologies. They can undermine but also they can end up ringing hollow when you really are sorry.

    Personally I say, “I apologize for…interrupting etc etc.” When I really am doing something that requires apologizing.

    But OP’s example “I’m sorry, I know this is piling onto an already-busy week, but I need you to add X to your plate and get it done by Friday” – doesn’t need an apology at all. Simply taking off the first two words is a fine statement. It is an expectation that things will come up and will be an inconvenience.

  21. Koala dreams*

    #1 The examle “I’m sorry, but I need you to to do X”, is an example where “I’m sorry” is not an apology, but a non-apology. Many people get annoyed with non-apologies. An important part of an apology is to not do the wrong thing again. Here, there is no wrong thing (presumably), and anyway, you are not going to change your behaviour. The “I’m sorry” is just a placeholder. You can use the person’s name if you want to be polite, or even a greeting, or you can just start the sentence after the “but”.

  22. Hello It's Me*

    #1 I commented above but I realized my situation was really different than OPs.

    Yeah I had a manager who would apologize every time she gave me work, and it was super weird. I was literally getting paid to do the work she was giving me to do, so apologizing felt like, “Sorry for paying your rent this month.”

  23. Curmudgeon in California*

    RE #5: Years ago where I worked a junior manager started the job after a cross country move to the SF Bay Area. She was new in the area, and came from a less kind environment. Maybe a month after she started, she announced her due date, somewhat nervously. This was in the early 80s, when they could still fire women for being pregnant. This was in a lab environment.

    The people we worked with threw her a baby shower. She went on leave, had her kid, and returned. Shocked the heck out of her.

    IMO, it really depends on the company. Good companies will do the right thing, and want to keep the person they have invested in.

  24. MsSolo*

    There’s a manager I work with (not in her chain, but my work supports her team) who always starts requests with a grovelling apology, and it drives me nuts. Yes, I’m busy. I know that. You know that. I know you know that. Nobody needs to spend several sentences on that fact. Just tell me what you need, and I’ll tell you how quickly I can get it done. It irritates me because its a fairly transparent way to make it harder for me to say no or not now – it’s making it an emotional plea rather than a business task.

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