Why you need to stop sending apologetic emails

Over apologising can undermine your authority and have a negative impact your career – here’s how you can take back control

Do you find yourself being overly polite in emails, so much so that it’s making you sound powerless? It’s a common problem that many of us have, and it may not surprise you that it’s an issue that’s greater amongst women than men. 

For example, a study from University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, showed that women are more likely to apologise because they have a lower threshold for what they consider as offensive, compared to our male counterparts. The same study also found that men are therefore more likely to be on the receiving end of the apology. 

But putting the statistics aside, how can we change this? 

Stop saying sorry 

First and foremost, ditch the word sorry (unless you’ve actually offended someone, of course). Common examples of when you may be apologising when it’s not really necessary are: “Sorry, could you repeat that?”, “Sorry, that time doesn’t work for me,” or “Sorry, I was late”. 

By becoming aware of how and when you say statements similar to this, you can actively work to change your vocabulary to be more powerful. For example, try “I didn’t catch that, could you repeat the point please?”, “I can’t make that time, but how about [proposed time] instead?” or “Thank you for waiting for me”. 

Use the right punctuation

How many times have you added exclamation points or a smiley face to soften the blow of what you’re saying? But now you come to think of it, were they really needed? Exclamation points especially, can be overused in an attempt to make us feel as if we’re being friendly, but their sole purpose is actually to draw attention to a specific point. When overused, they lose their impact. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style says the exclamation mark ‘should be used sparingly to be effective.’

To make your emails more assertive, only use exclamation points when you really want to dramatise something. 

Switch up your vocabulary

So we’ve already banished ‘sorry’ and exclamation points from your email vocabulary – but there’s still a lot more to sort through. There are a number of common words that will be surrendering your power, such as:

  • Just: “Just to let you know”
  • No worries: “No worries if you can’t make the deadline”
  • Bother: “Sorry to bother you”

Once you’ve finished writing your email, have a read through and notice how many times you use each of these. Then, take a few minutes to reword them, to ensure your email is concise, straight to the point, and unapologetic. 


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