When it comes to your office space, it helps to be comfortable. Social dynamics can definitely be a factor in how you feel within your office. Even in how you present and produce your work. So does apologizing really impact your career? You might even be wondering where this came from and how this makes a difference. Which is why you should really keep reading.
Years ago, I was a fresh-faced marketing intern roaming the innovative halls of a creative media firm. I was educated yet new to the industry. At the time, this was the most inspiring setting I had set foot in, with regards to work experience. I felt so right in my pretentious black dress pants and blazer. My phone in one hand. My Grande vanilla latte in the other. With my soon-to-be-completed undergraduate degree.
This internship felt different than expectation however. I felt my voice was heard and I was often approached with new concepts. I was also able to give input from my previous marketing experiences. Role models wandered across the office often, and it was remarkably clear that powerful women dominated this office. I enjoyed being able to attend crucial planning meetings, as I enjoyed watching these creative titans thrive and engage each other.
And then I said it.
As I ventured into the boardroom, I narrowly avoided bumping into a senior member of the firm, and said –
It was as though a glass had been dropped. This manager turned to me and explained that at this firm, the word ‘sorry’ was not preferred, as the only time the word was to be used was in the event of a costly mistake. She also claimed that apologizing to her in that moment, gave her the impression that I felt I was entitled to less space or excessively pliable to the opinions of others. So does apologizing really impact your career in the way that this manager referenced? Maybe.
This moment happened to redefine my work presence for future years. She had a point. Various media outlets like the New York Times and TIME Magazine have pointed out that apologizing in the work place implies that making a powerful statement, action or correction is something to compensate for. While many of these articles focus primarily on women, I feel this is applicable to all genders and identifications. Being personable is a leadership quality. So is being observant to the feelings of those around you. However, if you are consistently moving out of the way and quietening down so that others can speak over you, you may be harming your career and office presence. Does apologizing really impact your career? Maybe not directly, but evaluating your behaviors will give you a better idea.
I discussed this with a few of my contacts, to get their perspective. Collectively, we were able to distinguish the times that require a “sorry” and the times where an apology is not required.
When to apologize
- When you step on a colleague’s foot
- When you eat a colleague’s lunch (just don’t)
- When you brush directly against someone in an awkward manner
- When your colleague runs for the elevator and you don’t stop it
- When you miss a deadline that involves other people’s professional credibility
- Damage or actual harm to others and their property
When not to apologize
- When you don’t understand and ask for additional explanation (you don’t read minds)
- When you are leading a project/talk and your colleagues need to be re-focused
- When you have an opposing view (Differing angles allows companies to plan more effectively)
- When your pitch wasn’t a hit (Don’t apologize for having a different perspective)
- When you are late to a meeting (if someone wants to know why you’re late, they’ll ask)
- When you ask for a raise (know your worth)
So, does apologizing really impact your career? We think so, although there are times where an apology is required. Ultimately, do what is most comfortable for you in your space. Remember that you were recruited for your ideas. Your personality and vision were also factors. You were not recruited because you were polite. Being personable and open to the feelings of others is important especially for leadership roles. However, doing what is best for your career is important as well. Know your worth.