Post Academic

Work Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on September 6, 2010
Tags: , ,

post academicI rarely blog about my current work life because blogging about one’s current work life usually gets little hamsters in big trouble. But a coworker did me a huge favor the other day that’s worth blogging about. He told me that I apologize too much. (For the record: I had stumbled into a conversation among colleagues about where to go drink after work, and I mistook it as interrupting a work conversation with another work question.) He’s right. It’s a bad habit that I cultivated as a childhood/teenage survival instinct.

Apologizing too much is often an issue for women, like we have to apologize for having thoughts. Men don’t apologize before they talk, or at least I don’t hear it that often. I don’t have a problem with that, either. Even if a thought isn’t a good one, why apologize for having it? But I still feel like I need to add a caveat before I make a statement.

Apologizing too much is also an issue for academics, not just female ones. Someone, somewhere started assuming that academia was an easy life. There are many movies, novels and slacker tenured professors to thank for this, so now academics feel like they have to atone by working themselves to death just to prove they work as hard as everyone else. (For non-academic readers, let it be said: Academics work hard. If you don’t believe it, step into their shoes for a day. I was in their shoes, and it was so hard that I threw up and fled.)

Tips on avoiding the apology trap after the jump! Image of a “Sorry!” game board by myguitarrz on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

So, what do you do when you fall into the trap of all-apologies, all-the-time? Much of the remedy involves straight-up theatrics, but if you’ve already taught unfamiliar material in front of a class, this should be easy.

Get to the point. When you offer an idea in a meeting, deliver it. Don’t say anything before, and don’t say anything afterward. Just let your idea loose. If no one responds, maybe the idea wasn’t what they were looking for or their just assholes. Prefacing your idea with “I know this is nuts …” or “I’m sorry, but …” won’t make any difference.

Mentally detach yourself from the idea. Easier said than done, right? I still can’t do it, but every idea that I had in the workplace that was successful were the ones that I didn’t treat as “mine” or somehow representative of my personality. If I had an idea that benefited the team or helped all of us get our work done faster, and it wasn’t about me, people took it more seriously. Just look at what you have to say as an idea rather than as a representation of yourself.

At least act like you’re not sorry. I liked Worst Professor Ever’s advice on owning a classroom, and being meek is not the way to gain authority: “By accepting your limits, you stop apologizing for them; by owning your idiocy, you gain authority. Have you ever watched a great physical comedian? They look out of control, but they’re not. Same thing here.” Same thing in the workplace. Accept that you’re going to say something stupid at some point, but it’s not your job to apologize for it.

As always, easier said than done. For me, apologizing is like an unfortunate reflex. Any other suggestions on how to quell the apology urge are welcome!

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