Sorry, I Can't Hear You Over Your Apologies

May 31st, 2018


What if I told you that without even knowing it, you might be using words that are silently sabotaging your credibility at work?

Think about the last time you were in a meeting or an email chain that frustrated you.

Maybe you needed clarification and you weren’t getting it. Maybe you felt like you were speaking plainly, but that you weren’t getting your point across. Or worse, maybe you weren’t being heard because your voice was quite literally being drowned out by those louder than your own.

I’ve written before about ways we are conditioned to play by rules designed to uphold our own oppression – and deferential or passive communication does exactly that.  But if you struggle with being upfront and direct, remember, you’re not alone. Women are acculturated to be deferential.

So please be kind to yourself, and know that change is possible.

Start with an honest appraisal of your vernacular, much of which is so ingrained we don’t even think about it. Changing your vocabulary and tone won’t happen overnight, but the following exercise will get you moving in the right direction.

Before you send one more slack message or email today, head on over to your sent folder. Now, do a quick search for the following:



          Checking in

          No problem


          Does that makes sense?



If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you need to stop apologizing and start being more direct. Sounds simple right? Not quite.

The bad news is that if you’re using lots of these terms, you’re a walking soft pitch. You ask for permission to participate and engage with colleagues in much the same way a child asks permission for a sleepover.

According to Eric Berne, an OG of behavioral science, we can understand ourselves better by examining how we communicate with others. So if your sent box is littered with tentative language, my guess is you’re not getting the respect or the results you deserve.


Like any other shift from what’s familiar, changing the way you speak and type is going to feel awkward at first. But we aren’t reinventing the wheel here, and I’ve got some examples to get you started:

  • Don’t: Just checking to see if you had a chance to look at that file?

Do: I need your feedback on the file I sent you on the 15th.

  • Don’t: So sorry for being out yesterday!!  I was in bed with a migraine.

Do: Thanks for keeping things moving while I was out yesterday.

  • Don’t: Checking in to see if we’re still on for our meeting at 4:00?

Do: Are we still meeting at 4:00?

  • Don’t: No problem!

Do: You’re welcome!

  • Don't: I’m wondering if we could do some testing to see what we come up with.

Do: I think testing that data before moving forward would give us a clearer picture.

  • Don't: Does that makes sense?

Do: Let me know if you have any questions.

Once you get into the swing of this, you are going to start noticing passive communication in other people in a big way. Don't be afraid to gently and privately acknowledge it when you hear it. But by far the best thing you can do is to set an example with your own powerful voice.

Liz Talago