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Stop Saying Sorry!

By Annie Bartley

In today’s society, it is not uncommon to hear women using apologetic speech habits. Whether it’s starting a sentence with “I’m sorry, but…” or using qualifiers like “just” or “maybe,” these language patterns often indicate a tendency to downplay our opinions or beliefs. And mostly, it’s bloody annoying!! Many of us women use it without us even realising. At times I still find myself using it. Here, we are going to unravel this learnt speech habit to help build us up to be better and more confident leaders.

Apologetic language is a speech habit where we use certain phrases, qualifiers and words to soften what we say, with good intentions, but as a result, undermines what we are saying, our competence, our position and who we are and what we have to offer. There are many contributing factors to us using and absorbing these speech habits but I’ve believe it stems from these specific areas…

Societal Expectations and Gender Stereotypes

One factor contributing to women’s use of apologetic speech habits is the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and societal expectations. Historically, women have been expected to be nurturing, accommodating, and non-confrontational. Consequently, they may feel pressured to soften their language, apologise unnecessarily, or use qualifying phrases to avoid appearing assertive or demanding. This behaviour is often a result of subconscious conditioning from a young age and can persist into adulthood.

Stereotype Threat and Backlash

For centuries, as women, we didn’t have political or human rights. That meant if we spoke up our safety was threatened or, as we know from history, branded a witch and burnt at the stake! Those women just had opinions! We softened how we spoke so we didn’t angered those around us. In many situations today, both professional and personal, that fear still remains for some women. However society is progressing, as women we are progressing; we’re being noisier, we’re being louder, we’re being bolder, everything we should and can be, and we no longer need to hold on to these speech habits.

Navigating Power Dynamics

Women navigating male-dominated spaces or hierarchies may strategically employ apologetic speech habits to negotiate power dynamics effectively. By using softer language, they may be able to assert themselves without appearing overly aggressive or threatening. This strategic approach aims to balance assertiveness and likability, attempting to find a middle ground where their ideas and contributions are taken seriously while still maintaining positive relationships.

So how do we actually change our language? The more we recognise, react, relearn, the more we break habits. The more other women see us doing this, the more men see women doing it, the more normal it is for other women to follow suit and use more assertive language. Never think you are too small or insignificant to make a difference. You could have another woman watching how you speak, listening to the language you are using, don’t underestimate the power and impact you can have on an individual and how you can inspire other to make change.

Give yourself space to grow

It was difficult for me to start in the beginning of my language process, implementing new phrases into real life situations, it scary and hard. The first time I started doing this I took about 3 years to send the email and after I was shaking like a leaf!! But the more I did it the easier it became now I’m like a samurai, slashing the JUST’s and ACTUALLYS like a true word warrior!! Trust in the process and yourself that it will become easier and more like second nature. Remember, We never fail, we win or we learn.

Sit with that uncomfortable feeling

Don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable: When you feel uncomfortable you are, in fact, growing. This is the perfect breeding ground for growth, you just have to sit in discomfort and tell yourself you are safe, you are worthy, take some good deep breathes and do it at your own time and your own pace. Listen to yourself. The uncomfortable feeling I speak of if an uncomfortable feeling of stepping outside your comfort zone, of what you think and feel you are capable of.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Uses these phrases instead of these..

Sorry: Instead of saying sorry say thank you

Sorry I’m late: thank you for waiting for me

Sorry I don’t have this done yet: Thanks for your patience whilst I finish this.

Sorry can I ask a question: is now a good time to ask a question

Sorry I missed that: thanks for pointing that out, is there anything else I should know here

Sorry but I don’t agree: I don’t agree with that / lets look at it from another angle

Sorry I’m bothering you: thanks for taking the time for me today

Sorry I was talking so much today: thanks for listening to me

The use of apologetic speech habits among women is a multifaceted issue influenced by various societal, cultural, and psychological factors. Encouraging gender equality, challenging gender stereotypes, and promoting confidence-building measures can help create an environment where women feel empowered to express their opinions without resorting to apologetic language. By fostering inclusive communication practices, we can contribute to a more equitable society where everyone’s voices are valued and heard.

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