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How negative politeness affects us at work

Hi Fred, I hope you’re well. If you’ve got the time, would you mind looking at that end of month report for me? If you could get it to me by the end of tomorrow, that would be a massive help. Sorry, I know you’re busy… Many thanks, Claire

Wait… why am I apologising?

Whether saying it directly, or implying it with your language, being sorry suggests you feel there’s something wrong with how you’re behaving or what you’re asking. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for being sorry. 

Though that time and place is unlikely to crop up 10+ times a day. Which is how many times a day women do apologise, on average.

But this is not just about women. 

Think about the last time you…

  • Were late to a meeting – “Sorry, I’m late…”
  • Changed plans – “Sorry, can we reschedule…”
  • Wanted to speak to someone – “Sorry, do you have a minute…”
  • Gave some feedback– “I’m sorry if this seems unfair…”
  • Didn’t reply to a message for a few hours – “Sorry, I was at work…”

And how many times in a week do you say “can you just?” “I know you’re busy but…” 

Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic explains that “apologies have become our habitual way of communicating” inside and outside of work. 

And yes, it can seem harmless. May even be harmless at the time. But actually, could it hurt us in the long run?

How long is it before that sorry becomes meaningless? #sorrynotsorry 

How long before it makes you seem less confident than you really are? Or even undermines your experience or expertise? Your authority?

You are where you are because of you, your skills, your ability. Do not apologise for that.

Jovanovic says “we can remove the “sorrys” from our sentences, and still be considerate.”

How about a thank you? Or hi? Or just dropping the sorry completely?

Try it out next time you…

  • Are late to a meeting – “Thank you for waiting…”
  • Changed plans – “I need to reschedule please…”
  • Want to speak to someone – “Hi, do you have a minute…”
  • Give some feedback – “Hey, I’d like to talk something through with you”
  • Can’t reply to a message for a few hours – “Thanks for your message, I was at work…”

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? As long as you’re polite, considerate and what you say or ask has reasoning behind it, nobody’s going to take offence.

So why are you apologising?

Hi Fred, I hope you’re well. Can you take a look at that end of month report? I need it by the end of tomorrow. Thanks, Claire

It’s your job.

It’s their job.

No sorry about it.

Download our free video resource to help you speak and write with confidence. It’s a great piece of content to upload to your LXP and share with your colleagues.

How negative politeness affects work

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