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The unexpected reason why you should avoid saying sorry at work

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Anna Brech
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Saying sorry too much in the workplace is often seen as an act of self-sabotage and conditioned deference. But it can also impact your creative vision - as highlighted by actor Blake Lively this week

It’s no secret that women apologise more than men, with research showing we have a lower threshold for what we consider is worth saying sorry for. 

In 2016, Google even launched a Gmail “Just Not Sorry” plug-in to help women scan their work emails and identify common caveat words such as “just” and “I’m sorry”. 

The tool, said creator Tami Reiss, would prevent women from “softening their speech in situations that called for directness and leadership”. 

Saying sorry too much can be undermining on a professional level, with some even interpreting it as a habitual token of subservience that reinforces tired old gender clichés. 

However, our tendency to apologise too readily also risks another (often overlooked) fallout, as actor Blake Lively pointed out this week.

Actor Blake Lively has learnt not to say sorry in the workplace

Lively’s latest film, A Simple Favor, sees her character tell a  friend, “Never say sorry — it’s a f***ed up female habit”.

And in real life, too, Lively has learnt not to say sorry - because doing so means she cannot voice herself properly.

“With age, you get more and more confident,” the Gossip Girl star tells USA Today

“I spent a lot of my creative life trying to just go along with it, and when I had ideas, I felt like they weren’t encouraged. 

“People just want you to show up, put on clothes, say words that aren’t yours and do what you’re told to do, versus actually being a creative partner.”

But, she adds: “The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized how much better work I do when I get to collaborate, and it’s really not worth it otherwise.”

Apologising at work stops you from fully collaborating with your ideas

When you say sorry too much, you cannot own your own voice; and therefore you’re unable to collaborate and share your ideas in the way that makes the best kind of jobs truly sing.

There’s an important argument to make here around the fact that women shouldn’t have to police their own language in the workplace. 

And, in a sense, that is true. No-one should have to censor themselves based on a legacy of gendered behaviour. 

But if you can concentrate on speaking up with your thoughts at work, rather than worrying about how to express them, you’ll be able to make yourself truly heard; you’ll take a place at the table.

As Lively says: “I’m most proud of are the experiences in which I was valued and those are not ones where you’re apologizing — those are ones where any idea is welcomed and heard. Those experiences teach me to stand up for what I believe in, creatively.”

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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