Sorry, Please Don’t Be Sorry!

There’s been plenty of coverage of Hillary Clinton’s formidable concession speech, at least half focused on the symbolism, chemistry, or mysticism of purple. But the other half, which addressed the content of her speech, spent way too much time on 2 out of 1,186 words that she uttered: “I’m sorry.”

Vanity Fair, for example, actually turned those 2 words into 3, and used them as the headline for the story. They also chose this picture (below) of her, literally stepping down with averted eyes and pursed lips.

Really? That’s the main take away from that masterful swan song on four decades of HRC’s historic career?

Were there any other soundbytes from her speech that could’ve been headline worthy? How about “Democracy demands our participation,” “Keep up these fights,” “Our best days are still ahead,” or perhaps: “I am incredibly honored and grateful.”

And any screen shots of her looking closer to her fully accomplished, if imperfect, self? How about this one, a slightly cheesy but powerful point to a supporter in the ‘rowdy crowd,’ which applauded for a full minute before letting her begin this masterful speech.

Perhaps what’s most headline-worthy about those 2 little words — 0.1% of her speech — is that Hillary Clinton was the first presidential candidate ever to apologize in a concession speech. Even in the most fraught campaign of recent memory, Al Gore never said sorry. And George W. Bush certainly didn’t apologize for the historic confusion over hanging chads. No one will even attempt to suggest it’s a coincidence that the first to do so was also the first female candidate.

The Sorry, Not Sorry meme has made its rounds, pointing out to women that apologizing makes us look less trustworthy and erodes our confidence (here’s my advice to fix it). One brilliant entrepreneur even built a (rad!) Chrome plug-in to scan (and remove) ‘sorry’ from users’ emails. More awareness and tools like this can help us monitor our language to be less self-defeating.

But a Scientific American study showed that the gender difference lies not in our language, but what we understand to be an offense. It’s not that men don’t bother to say ‘sorry’ when they’ve done something that a woman would apologize for. They simply don’t recognize that behavior as an offense, and so don’t see any need to apologize. Women have a lower threshold for what they should apologize for, whether that’s bumping into someone on the street, or losing the electoral college after a bloody election.

So women, as part of your constructive response to these election results, stop apologizing! And then take a closer look at those near-misses: what are you feeling sorry for, and is there any reason for you for that feeling, or were you simply being your best self possible in that moment? These subtleties in our behavior and language are what will make the difference for our next female candidate, as well as female managers rising toward the C-suite, female entrepreneurs raising money, and all other women aspiring to power in their respective situations.

So stop apologizing for your ambition, or for the myriad failures you’ll have along the path to success, and don’t accept apologies from your female colleagues either.