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The "Sorry Syndrome": Why Working Mums Need to Stop Over-Apologising

Ever find yourself apologising for things that don't need an apology? Missed an email? "Sorry!" Need a quick break? "Sorry!" It's a reflex many of us have, especially as mums juggling work and home life. But here's the thing: constant apologising can undermine your confidence and put you on the back foot. It suggests a state of mind where we feel perpetually at fault, even when we're not. This mindset holds us back from moving forward and truly enjoying our work and personal lives

This behaviour, often referred to as the "Sorry Syndrome," can have negative implications. Not only on our own self-confidence, but how we are perceived and our potential for advancement.

The Tendency to Apologise

Research indicates that women tend to apologise more frequently than men. A study by Karina Schumann and Michael Ross, published in Psychological Science, found that women often have a lower threshold for what they consider offensive behaviour, leading to more frequent apologies (Schumann & Ross, 2010). Linguistic studies support this notion. Women’s speech tends to be more collaborative and supportive, often involving more apologies and hedging language than men’s speech (Tannen, 1990). This is partly due to societal norms and expectations that encourage women to be polite and accommodating.

Screw that, am I right?! Truth is, however, I found myself doing this exact thing on my return to work and honestly, just as a junior executive trying to cimb the ladder. It took a concerted effort to break this almost automatic behaviour. So what does it matter? Being polite is good, right?

The Impact of Over-Apologising

While apologising can be a positive way to maintain social harmony and demonstrate politeness, over-apologising can have several detrimental effects:

  1. Undermining Confidence: Constantly saying sorry can erode your self-esteem and confidence. It can create an internal narrative where you start believing that you are always at fault or not good enough.

  2. Perception of Competence: Frequent apologies can make you appear less confident and competent. This perception can affect how colleagues and superiors view your abilities and readiness for leadership roles.

  3. Authority and Leadership: In corporate environments, especially in leadership positions, displaying confidence and decisiveness is crucial. Over-apologising can undermine your authority, making it harder for you to be seen as a strong leader.

The Way Forward

If you've fallen foul of this behaviour, it's time to shift your mindset and communication patterns to empower yourself and enhance your professional presence. Here are some strategies to help reduce unnecessary apologies:

  1. Awareness: The first step is to become aware of how often you apologise. Pay attention to your language and notice if you’re saying sorry out of habit or necessity.

  2. Reframe Your Language: Instead of apologising, try to reframe your statements. For example, instead of saying, "Sorry for the delay," you can say, "Thank you for your patience." This shift can help you maintain a positive tone without undermining your position.

  3. Assertiveness Training: Consider engaging in assertiveness training or workshops. These can help you develop skills to communicate more confidently and assertively without feeling the need to apologise unnecessarily.

  4. Seek Feedback: Ask trusted colleagues or mentors for feedback on your communication style. They can provide valuable insights and help you identify areas for improvement.

  5. Positive Affirmations: Reinforce your self-worth with positive affirmations. Remind yourself of your strengths and achievements regularly.

Breaking free from the "Sorry Syndrome" is crucial for working mothers striving to advance in their careers. By becoming aware of our tendencies to over-apologise and actively working to change our communication habits, we can build greater confidence, enhance our professional image, and open doors to new opportunities. Reclaim your power and stand tall in the workplace – unapologetically.


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