Friday, April 17, 2015

sorry not sorry

I've always loved Robert Fulghum's book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. 

Full of common sense, basic principles, Fulgham reminds us that being a decent human being is really elementary: play fair, don't hit people, say you're sorry when you hurt someone. 

All of the other stuff we learn in school and as we get older - is just extra.

Like learning to be grateful, I think I learned how to apologize long before I went to kindergarten, thanks to my parents who were quick to deescalate tensions over toys and television shows by demanding that my brother and I "say sorry" to one another. 

I'd like to think my apologies have grown more sincere and heartfelt since those kid-style "sorrys" that were usually mumbled under my breath and rarely included any eye contact.  And though I have my moments, I'm still as quick to apologize when I know I'm wrong, even if there isn't an adult telling me to.    

I never considered that saying "I'm sorry" was anything other than the right thing to do, until last year when Pantene came forward with a campaign encouraging women to STOP APOLOGIZING so much. 

"Wait, what?," I thought to myself when I saw an article about their efforts.

The video makes their point, brilliantly I think, portraying women in various scenarios apologizing for things they shouldn't be sorry for.  I immediately identified.  I've apologized for asking questions I thought might be stupid.  I've apologized for speaking up in a meeting at the same time as someone else.  I even apologized to some one who got in line behind me at the water cooler while I was filling up my large cup.  Letting these "sorrys" fly makes true apologies less impactful and undermines my desire to portray myself as the confident, intelligent, capable person that I am.

Last week at work, I was a part of a project that at the last minute fell a part.  I was frustrated.  A lot of my colleagues were frustrated.  Mistakes were made at several levels - not just mine - but because of my involvement in the project's failure, and because of what I learned in kindergarten, I immediately wanted to apologize.

And I started to, but then stopped myself, remembering the Pantene campaign.  I agonized over how to proceed in a way that satisfied both the kindergartener in me who learned to own up to her mistakes and apologize for them, and the career woman who doesn't want to roll over or appear weak and defensive.

The ability to take responsibility for my actions and sincerely apologize has served me well in personal relationships, yet I'm unsure how to translate that to my job.    

Is it ever okay to apologize in the workplace?

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