For many women, the words “I’m sorry” are expressed far too often. Women, whether merited or not, often apologize for the slightest infraction. “I’m sorry for interrupting,” “I’m sorry, would you please lower your voice,” “I’m sorry, would you repeat your comment,” “I’m sorry…” How many times do you say “I’m sorry throughout the day?
In an effort to help women minimize the overuse of “sorry,” we reached out to Leah Bonvissuto (@BespokenNY), communications coach and co-founder, Bespoken in New York. Leah urges women to UNapologize! According to her, “Women don’t have to say ‘I’m sorry’ to apologize. We apologize with tone, physicality, choice of words, everything! It’s been unconscious until recently but now it’s mainstream conversation thanks to Sloane Crosley, Amy Schumer and Sheryl Sandberg.”
In a recent Twitter chat, Leah shared insight on why some women apologize so often, and how to UNapologize.
Why do women apologize so often?
It could be a lack of practice or preparation, confusion over rules or intentions, discomfort with authority. And men do it too! We seek harmony in relationships more than men and are more empathetic, which is strength. Women are taught not to take up too much space or be loud. Every woman is different and complex. Many have Imposter Syndrome or feel like frauds.
Why should women UNapologize?
There’s nothing wrong with apologizing when you mean it but unintentional apologizing undermines authority. Negative self-talk and bad past experiences are ongoing cycles and cause dread/anxiety. Habits get ingrained and passed down. We don’t want to tell women what to do or say but want them to have tools to be intentional and in control when speaking.
What are some barriers that prevent women from speaking up in the workplace? How can they overcome?
Power plays, old boy’s club, promotion on past experience vs. potential, ambition gaps, uneven playing field. We’re working in systems created by men that haven’t been adjusted to incorporate our voices and how we communicate. Do we need new systems, techniques and safe spaces to practice and ingrain new behaviors like amplification? We need to talk more about work-life balance, Imposter Syndrome, gender diversity.
Tell us three things women say that weaken their words.
Excessive use of qualifiers (just, kind of, sometimes, I think, actually, basically). Unconscious filler (like, um, uh, so, you know, I mean). Physicality and tone of voice.
How should women speak with conviction and authority in the workplace?
Set an intention for conversations: “Educate her” or “Inspire him” and return to it when you feel apologies coming on. Replace apologies and filler with a deep breath. It will ground you and also help you. Prepare. If you know what you want to say and practice it with conviction, you’ll feel more confident and apologize less. Get rid of question marks. You’re not being rude, just direct. Record yourself to hear the difference! Communication is a skill. It takes time, practice and patience. Many think it should be second nature — but it’s not.
How can women find their professional voice?
Find Your Voice and own it. Bad past experiences make us tense up physically and vocally, but your authentic voice is underneath. Working with a communication coach can help you own Your Voice faster. We all need an outside eye. Go to Toastmasters or gather-trusted friends in a safe space to give each other feedback.
Can you share a few takeaways?
You don’t have to say “I’m sorry” to over-apologize. Look for apologies in your body language, tone of voice, choice of words. We need systems, techniques and safe spaces designed by and for women. Amplification is just one example. Be kind to yourself. Changing lifelong behaviors takes practice and patience. Use tools that make you feel empowered. Awareness and safe spaces are key. Record yourself to listen for apologies. Ask a trusted friend to be an outside eye
UNapologizing is a process. Leah says, it takes time and courage. For further insight on how to UNapologize yourself, check out Leah Bonvissuto’s article on the topic.
Saying Sorry At Work (Refinery29)