Stop Over-Apologizing and Other Tips to Become a Stronger Leader

Weber Shandwick St. Louis
Feb 7 · 7 min read

By Morgan Galbraith and Lindsey Herzog

Earlier this year we launched the St. Louis chapter of the IPG Women’s Leadership Network (WLN), which brings together the three St. Louis-based IPG agencies — Weber Shandwick St. Louis, New Honor Society, and Momentum St. Louis — to promote and redefine female leadership in our agencies and in our region.

Our mission is simple, but vital: empowering young professionals to create a more progressive, diverse marketing industry in St. Louis. Through this mission, we’ll seek to help young women better define their path to becoming leaders, attract new and diverse talent in the St. Louis region, and elevate the climate and culture within our agencies and beyond.

As we embark on this mission, we want to soak up as much wisdom and insight as we can from top female leaders. Most recently, we had the opportunity to attend the St. Louis Business Journal Women’s Conference, where we got to learn from some amazing women, including award-winning journalist Deborah Roberts and media executive, startup investor and best-selling author, Fran Hauser.

We were inspired by the stories and wisdom these women shared at the conference. Below are a few of our favorite tips that you can use to become a stronger leader, no matter where you work or where you are in your career.

Tip 1: Stop Over-Apologizing

Several speakers at the conference spoke about the power of language, especially when it comes to the word “sorry.” Over-apologizing can inadvertently put you in a position of weakness and make you seem like a pushover at the office, which can get in the way of being seen as a leader. But there are many easy things you can do to combat this behavior:

· Take stock of your “sorry.” You may not realize how often you’re needlessly apologizing. Fran recommends Just Not Sorry, a Google Chrome plugin that points out all of the apologetic phrases in your emails, so that you can edit that weak language out before you hit send. Awareness is the first step toward change.

· Get called out. Often in meetings or on conference calls, we apologize without even recognizing we’ve done it. Ask a trusted colleague if they’re willing to alert you when you’ve apologized unnecessarily. This will make you think about why you’re saying “sorry” at that moment and can help you exchange the apologetic language for something stronger.

· Exchange apologies for gratitude. Instead of apologizing, think about the message you’re really trying to get across. For example, if it’s taken you a few days to get back to someone via email, you can replace the typical “sorry for the delay” with “thanks for your patience,” which is stronger, more positive language.

· Treat “sorry” like a swear word. We share an office space with our sister agency, New Honor Society, who introduced us to the idea of creating a swear jar for all of our unneeded apologies with their #NotSorry campaign. The premise is simple — every time you say “sorry” without cause, you put money in the #NotSorry jar. Parting with precious funds can help you break this habit.

Tip 2: Speak Up

Sitting silently in a meeting because you’re waiting for an opening or trying to find the exact right thing to say won’t get you recognized. Even though it can be challenging at first, speaking up and sharing something meaningful can help you be seen as a leader, and can result in new opportunities.

At the conference, Fran shared that when she was just starting out in her career, she was so intimidated by a client that all she could come up with to say in a meeting was, “that’s interesting.” However, a manager pushed Fran to share her thoughts in future meetings, and those thoughts impressed the client so much he eventually asked Fran to come work for him at Coca-Cola Company.

Speaking up can be intimidating, but being prepared can help. Before you have a big meeting, review the agenda and map out a few ideas or topics you feel comfortable speaking about. Then, when you’re in the meeting, leverage stock phrases like, “I love that perspective and…” or “building on that…” to ensure you can work your ideas into the conversation. Repeating what someone else has said and adding on to their idea can make your teammates feel heard and recognized.

As a leader, you should be on the lookout for coworkers who might not yet feel confident enough to speak up in meetings, and help them get comfortable sharing their thoughts. Ahead of a meeting, give your colleague a heads up that you’d like to ask them about a certain topic — this will give them time to prepare their thoughts so that they can confidently share them when you meet.

And speaking up in meetings isn’t the only time to speak up. Deborah shared in her keynote that speaking up on matters of achievement is just as important. We need to be our own champions and showcase our value to keep moving forward.

Tip 3: Expand Your Circle

When it comes to being successful in business, it’s all about building and nurturing the right relationships. Fran credits the strong relationships she built to being selected for her first big promotion at Coca-Cola Company. When asked why she was selected, she was surprised to learn that her relationship skills played a big role — her ability to influence others, build loyal and committed teams, and establish a strong network across the business.

While most of us know networking is important, we typically don’t do it as often as we should. Below are a few helpful tips we learned from the conference to help you expand your circle:

· Set a goal for yourself. Aim to meet at least one new person every week, whether it’s going to coffee, grabbing lunch or attending an event together.

· Focus on the inside and outside. While networking within your own organization or industry is great, don’t forget to look outside your bubble. Ensure your networking goals are based on your personal mission or purpose, and find those who can help turn your dreams into a reality.

· Do your homework. When asking for a meeting, be sure to do research on that individual. Think about why this person would want to accept a meeting with you. What can you offer them so it becomes a mutually beneficial relationship?

· Follow-up. One conversation isn’t enough to form a meaningful relationship. Don’t forget to reach out to the person afterward, thanking them for their time. You can also add them on LinkedIn and set reminders to connect with them on a regular basis.

Tip 4: Feedback is a Gift

Fran describes feedback as “data you can do something with.” She believes if you’re not giving or receiving feedback on a regular basis, you risk the chance of becoming stagnant.

However, giving and receiving feedback is easier said than done. How can we provide direct, impactful feedback without coming across as not caring or impersonal?

For starters, Fran recommends framing the conversation positively. For example, instead of saying “We need to talk” say “I’m your biggest champion and really want to see you succeed.” This helps reassure the individual you’re on their side and you’re feedback is coming from a sincere place.

While it’s important to be specific and direct about feedback, Fran also recommends avoiding questions that seem like a personal attack. For example, instead of asking, “What do you think you could have done differently?” ask “What do you think could have been done differently?” Often times, the individual will talk about what they could have improved in addition to others on the team, without you even having to ask. You may also learn additional information that helps you understand the person, and the situation, better.

When wrapping up your conversation, don’t forget to discuss next steps. In addition to asking what they will do to improve, include what you commit to as a manager and how you will be supportive. Just keep in mind — this doesn’t mean doing the hard work for them!

Tip 5: Commit to Change

As we begin to launch our own Women’s Leadership Network, one of the things that really hit home at the conference was the “Voicing Our Differences” panel. Right away, it was clear that the panel wasn’t going to be a discussion focused on understanding the importance of diversity and inclusion. We were beyond that. Instead, the conversation was focused on what organizations can actually do to become more diverse and inclusive.

As we think about forward planning for our own Women’s Leadership Network and diversity and inclusion initiatives, we pledge to drive change. We may know and feel that diversity and inclusion is important, but what are we actually going to do about it? Our goal is to make a measurable and distinct impact on how our office and organization embraces differences, and work together to become the best versions of ourselves — helping our female professionals become strong, admired and empathetic leaders.

Stay tuned to see what we have in store!

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