Sorry Not Sorry: When Not to Apologize in Business

I spent many years as a server at different restaurants until I got a "real" job after dropping out of college to get married and have a kid. (I just threw a whole lot at you, didn't I?) In the restaurant industry, and a lot of other customer service-based businesses, you learn early on that "the customer is always right". Well, that never sat well with me, and I had more than one occasion where I made sure the customer knew they were NOT right.

Needless to say I didn't do so well in those jobs. Moving on...

Here's the thing: As business owners, we rely on the happiness of our clients and the people we work closely with, and if something doesn't go well, we're supposed to be the bigger person and apologize. But there are times in business when an apology isn't necessary or appropriate, and especially as a woman, it's sometimes hard to STOP saying "sorry!". Let's talk about this.

We've always heard that the customer is always right, but there are times in business when you should not apologize. Sorry not sorry.
We've always heard that the customer is always right, but there are times in business when you should not apologize. Sorry not sorry.

I have a dear friend who has had more than her fair share of obstacles thrown into her path in life. Both kids have debilitating issues that have forced her to be a full-time caregiver, while she suffers from her own menagerie of health issues. Her husband has to work pretty much 24-7 to pay for all the medical bills.

Yet every single time I call her or visit her, the first thing she does is apologize for something.

"I'm so sorry the house is a mess!" (Which, sidenote, it never is. Her house is spotless and looks like something straight out of House Beautiful magazine. So just stop it already.)

"I'm so sorry I haven't called!" (Really? Hello, 8,742 doctor's visits. You're a bit busy.)

I know a lot of other women who are the same way - they apologize for everything, even when there's nothing to apologize for...and then they'll apologize for that.

Maybe it's because I am my father's child (read: hard-headed and overly confident), but I just don't apologize for every single little thing. If you came over to my house right now, you'd see dog hair on the floor, a messy office, and dishes in the sink. But would I say, "I'm so sorry the house is a mess!" Nope. I'd invite you in and offer you a sweet tea because WE LIVE HERE.

What does this have to do with being sorry in business? A WHOLE HECKUVA LOT. There are certain times in business when, sorry not sorry, you should NOT apologize.

WHY YOU'VE GOT TO STOP APOLOGIZING

If you were to truly pay attention to how often you apologize in any given day, it's probably a lot more often than you think. The word "sorry" just falls out of our mouths. We use it as filler, we try to come off as not-so-aggressive, we try to seem more polite. But what you're really doing is setting yourself up as a pushover and a weak individual whose opinions shouldn't matter.

Harsh? Not sorry.

OVER-APOLOGIZING KILLS CONFIDENCE

You might be one of these women who isn't so sure of your own abilities in your business. You know you're good at something, but when other people take a peek at what you do, you apologize for your work before they have a chance to form their own opinion.

If you catch yourself describing something you've created as "just a..." whatever, you're probably an over-apologizer, too. Know what you know and stand firm on it so others will take your work seriously, too.

BEING TOO SORRY MAKES YOU SEEM WEAK

True story: I had to force myself to take a communications class in college to get over my fear of talking to strangers. I wouldn't even look people in the eye. I was so painfully shy. Can you believe it? But it was one of the traits I hated about myself so I sought to fix it, and I did.

I now speak in front of groups of women at blog conferences, host webinars to a couple hundred people, teach courses, work 1:1 with clients, and all that other good stuff. But I wasn't always this way. I was weak, or at least people perceived me as such because I apologized for everything, even when someone else would bump into me in the hallway. I would avoid eye contact, say "sorry", then run away.

Don't be like weak Kirsten. If you see this in yourself, do what you must to correct it so you, and everyone else, will see you as the strong, confident woman you were meant to be.

SAYING "SORRY" ISN'T ASSERTIVE

We've all been there - some random person is being particularly annoying, and everyone around them knows it but no one says anything. So you, trying to be the helper, casually strolls over to said annoying person and says, "I'm sorry, but could you please stop talking so loudly?"

WHY ARE YOU SORRY? "Sorry" is not being polite. "Sorry" is being a pushover. Instead of "sorry", say "Excuse me", or "Do you mind???", or "Hey jackass! I'm working here!" (Ok, maybe not that last one...)

Seriously, if you want to be taken seriously and make your point, don't lead with an apology.

WHEN NOT TO APOLOGIZE IN BUSINESS

There are times, as a business owner, when you will have to open mouth, insert foot, and admit you screwed up. I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and it ain't fun, but it's part of running a business. However, there are times in business when you should NOT apologize, so let's talk about those times.

WHEN THE CLIENT OR READER IS DIFFICULT

We all have those run-ins with the random jackwagon who just insists on being difficult, and to soothe them, we might feel compelled to apologize for their ridiculous behavior, as if our work isn't up to par.

I remember a blog comment I got one time on a craft I posted on Sweet Tea & Saving Grace. I created and shared detailed steps for making a no-sew sock animal, and this woman left a comment complaining that she was trying to print that post so she could give to her ladies group so they could make them, but there was so much "junk" in the post that it was taking 15 or so pages of her precious paper to print, and that was just way too much. You know what? I'll just show it to you:

Capture
Capture

Notice my response. Not one "I'm so sorry" anywhere in there. I basically politely told her she's an idiot, then went about my day.

You will have difficult people, whether it's a blog reader or a client. Some people just like being difficult, but never, ever apologize to them to try to put a band-aid on their bad behavior. Instead, with every complaint, politely but assertively give them the information they requested, then be done with it.

If their nastiness continues, let them know they can no longer be your client, then sever ties. It's not worth it. #sorrynotsorry

WHEN FAMILY COMES FIRST

Our families are supposed to be our first priority, so when something comes up that causes you to have to reschedule or cancel something, don't apologize for it. Now, let me be crystal clear here: It is perfectly acceptable for you to apologize for the inconvenience you may have caused while rescheduling, but don't apologize for the fact that your kid got sick or your mom has to have surgery.

A. It's not your fault. And B. They should totally understand and deal with it.

I'm dealing with this right now, actually. I've had to reschedule quite a few podcast recording sessions to help take care of my mother-in-law after surgery, and I have apologized to each and every one of my podcast guests for asking them to reschedule, but I have yet to apologize for the reason. I usually give a brief reason for the need to reschedule, then say something like, "I'm sure you understand."

And you know what? They totally do.

WHEN IT'S JUST A FLUKE

Accidents happen. Technology happens. Life happens. Don't apologize for things that are out of your control.

If you're working with a client and something happens that's out of your control, but it causes work to be lost, explain but don't apologize. I know a lot of people will disagree with me here, and that's fine, but I stand by this.

I was working with a client several months ago who had gobs of information in their MailChimp email list, and we wanted to remove some of the fields in her sign-up form. I told her to back up all of the important data, then let me know once that had been done. She did, so I deleted mailing address fields.

Months later, long after my work with her was finished, she came back to me saying I deleted her information and she couldn't recover it. Guess what? I'm not sorry. I told her to back up her files, and she told me she did. She gave me specific instructions as to what fields to delete, so I did my job. It was a fluke that her files didn't back up like she thought, but it wasn't something I did wrong.

That was a tough one for me because I truly felt terrible that she lost all that data, but there was nothing I could do to recover it or make her feel better. It is what it is.

Bottom Line: If it's not your fault, don't apologize for it.

Count your "sorry's" and work to swap them out with other words or phrases so you present yourself as more assertive and confident. #sorrynotsorry