A couple weeks ago I was watching one of my favorite shows, The Good Wife, and was struck by a scenario Eli Gold presented to Alicia Florick, which he used to demonstrate her lack of assertiveness:
“There are two people rushing to meetings. Both aren’t watching where they’re going so they run into each other. The first person politely responds, “Excuse me”, while the other impatiently responds, “Watch where you’re going!”
“You, Alicia, are the first person.”
Over the weekend I noticed an article by The Washington Post about “woman in meeting” language and how famous quotes would be said if they were shared by women in meetings. Although some examples were a bit extreme for comedic value, I found the majority to be quite accurate:
“Give me liberty, or give me death.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Dave, if I could, I could just — I just really feel like if we had liberty it would be terrific, and the alternative would just be awful, you know? That’s just how it strikes me. I don’t know.”
“Let my people go.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Pharaoh, listen, I totally hear where you’re coming from on this. I totally do. And I don’t want to butt in if you’ve come to a decision here, but, just, I have to say, would you consider that an argument for maybe releasing these people could conceivably have merit? Or is that already off the table?”
“I have not yet begun to fight.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Dave, I’m not going to fight you on this.”
Last week, I was sitting in a lunch and learn event with several other female entrepreneurs and I was struck by a scenario that went painfully like to this:
Speaker: “Feel free to ask questions as we go … “
Female CEO: “Sorry, I do have a question. My question is … <question> … OK, sorry one more thing … Great …Thank you … Yes, sorry, that clears it up. Thank you.”
It took everything in me at that moment not to interrupt her and tell her she didn’t need apologize. There was no reason to apologize. She wasn’t interrupting. Her question was valid as was her follow up.
This third scenario struck me as an extreme example of politeness perhaps mixed with some insecurity in speaking in front of groups. I could be wrong, but either way I left the meeting determined to write this blog post. I want to challenge us all as women in business to notice when we excuse ourselves unnecessarily and apologize needlessly.
Why the Heck Are We Apologizing So Much?
Whether we’re intimidated on some psychological level or we’re simply trying to be polite and not offend — what’s the worst that could happen if we stopped apologizing? Apologizing needlessly makes us look weak, unsure, unconfident and just plain silly. It needs to stop. It’s just not necessary and it’s counterproductive.
I’ve personally never heard a first hand account of a woman being told to “stop interrupting” or to “quiet down” or that her comment was “too direct.” I’ve seen these scenarios play out in media and have read about them in books but haven’t seen this myself. Have you ever experienced this sort of repression? Please share if you have — I’d love to read a first hand account.
It seems to me that we’re adding an apology as a safety net. You know, just in case.
Make the Madness Stop!
Let me concede that I’m guilty of apologizing needlessly too. The times I find myself making this misstep are when I feel the need to appease a group I am a part of or if I’m actually interrupting. The latter is probably acceptable. Either way, I want to be hyper-sensitive to this tendency and for the most part, kill it.
Here’s what I plan to do:
- If I do catch myself apologizing, I plan to ask myself: Why did I just apologize and was it appropriate?
- Keep track of the number of times I apologize needlessly each day.
- I’m going to challenge my team to be aware of this tendency and point out if I apologize needlessly at work.
That’s it. I’m done apologizing unless I’ve actually wronged someone. Who’s with me?