Breaking the Sorry Habit

by Carla Howard


Ladies… We really need to stop apologizing. Sorry, but it’s true! (oops…)

The sorry habit is darn near an epidemic that reduces influence and promotability for many women (and some men) in the workplace. Like most habits, we usually don’t realize that we are doing it… or how often.

I advise many of my mentoring clients to keep a “Sorry Journal” for one week. The homework assignment is simple: catalogue every “I’m sorry”, “I apologize”, and “Sorry, got a minute?” for seven days. In week two, we discuss how to kick the sorry habit.

The results are enlightening. Once we understand how often these words casually slip into our conversations, and which situations tend to result in an apologetic response, it’s easier to plan an alternate and more powerful response.

Here are the top triggers that the “Sorry Journal” typically identifies. Women often apologize when they:

  • Interject ideas into a conversation – “Sorry, I have something to add here…”
  • Show compassion – “I’m sorry your vacation didn’t go as planned”
  • Feel small – “Sorry, I’ll move so you can sit here”

If you are reading this and thinking, “Ohhhh… that is sooooo me!”, here are a few replacement actions and phrases to help you kick the sorry habit:

  • Pause/Then Interject – It’s much more powerful to wait for a lull in the conversation, and say, “What if we considered…”. When the conversation has moved on to a new subject, saying “Can we go back to _____?” or “I believe we have a risk around…” works great.
  • Acknowledge the emotion – Compassion isn’t taking responsibility or trying to help someone feel better. It’s simply demonstrating understanding. Try saying “That must be frustrating”, or “I can see where that would be a difficult situation” the next time you’re tempted to use “I’m sorry” as a compassionate response.
  • Do you have a minute? – This works perfectly whether dropping by to chat with a colleague, direct report, or leader. Your time is equally valuable, no need to apologize for the desire to have a conversation.
  • Thank you – Yes, you read that right. It sounds strange at first, and it works! Replace “Sorry I asked to leave early yesterday when the babysitter called”, with “Thank you for your understanding when I needed to leave early yesterday”. It’s magic!

The sorry habit keeps us small. Be bold, kind, and effective by eliminating unnecessary apologies. You’ll see an increase in your level of influence and promotability as you rise with confidence and grace!

IAAP works with the best trainers in the industry to ensure you have relevant, engaging, practical content at your fingertips. This blog is written by a speaker with a program in the IAAP Approved Programs database. Search by name or keyword to find their contact information and book them for your Branch or Region event.

Carla Howard is a keynote speaker, author, and professional mentor. Her mission is to help women become more influential and promotable so they can rise with confidence and grace! To learn more about Carla and the programs and services she offers, visit her website at:  


You can email Carla directly with comments or questions at:

3 thoughts on “Breaking the Sorry Habit

  1. I find this to be such a struggle for professional women in support roles! I’ll be checking every day for your questions and comments… how can I help?


  2. I completely agree! It is so easy to get into the sorry habit because you are trying to show compassion and understanding–or even feel bad about interrupting someone to ask for help. Sometimes our habits come from responses of others–those we have gone to for help shut us down and now we react out of fear. I’m realizing I need to work on not saying sorry to everything, not only to build my confidence but also to help my professional communication.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nicole, It’s a habit that is ohhhh sooooo easy to fall into!!! I often find I pick it back up when someone I work closely with apologizes frequently. The key is to be aware, then replace “sorry” with the real emotion you’re feeling. With a little bit of focus, you’ll eliminate “sorry” and find the right replacement to convey your message. I love your close… eliminating sorry will definitely raise your level of confidence!


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