Column by Janine Popick, Inc.com "Women in Business"
May 21, 2009
I’ve worked for a bunch of companies spanning from New York to the Bay Area, both large and small. I have noticed in all of these companies that women apologize in our everyday language--me included. I’ve had times where a woman will walk into my office with a pre-scheduled meeting, and sheepishly say, "Sorry, is now still a good time?" I cannot remember a single time when I had a scheduled meeting with a guy who did that.
In certain meetings, I have even found myself starting sentences like, "Sorry if we’ve covered this and I can’t remember…" or "Apologies, if I don’t understand. I’m not a tech head but…" Why do we feel the need to do this? Hell, I even apologized for a typo in one of my blog posts because someone called me out on it.
If it’s so easy for women to spew "sorrys" all day long, why can it be SO tough for men to apologize? I found an article online that said when women apologize, we’re just being polite, while men don’t apologize because it’s a sign of weakness. I had a man who worked for me who actually did apologize--just not for what he did. Instead, he apologized for how it made me feel. "I’m sorry you feel that way," just isn’t a substitute for "I’m sorry that I did that."
Sometimes all anyone wants is an apology. It lets us know that there was an admission that the other person did something wrong, takes full responsibility for his or her action, and genuinely feels bad about it. We want to know that they’re taking ownership, not pushing it on to someone else.
Think about when you’re in a car on the freeway and someone cuts you off. Initially, you’re so angry, you might even catch up to them to give them a verbal smack down. But if you look over and see them say "I’m sorry," all’s suddenly fine in the world, isn’t it?
Is there no middle ground? Being in the technology field and having an online service here at VerticalResponse, we’re always reliant upon other entities to keep us up and running. We need electricity to power the machines, and ISPs to make connections, so web pages show--the list goes on and on--and at the other end of the equation is tens of thousands of small businesses looking to us to help them grow, move inventory, and otherwise get the word out.
With all of these moving parts, there is always the possibility of something going awry. If a problem at any level affects our customers, an e-mail goes out from me personally to describe the problem to them, and to detail the measures we’ll take to hopefully not let it happen again. It’s topped with a big, ole apology because I genuinely feel bad we’ve interrupted our customer’s day.
Usually that’s a pretty bad day for me, but it always happens--I get a nice note from a customer saying thanks, no need to apologize.