So Sorry, Too Nice: Undermining Our Effectiveness

Apr 17 2019

From a very young age, women learn to play nicely and put others first. We become wired to apologize for even slight inconveniences (taking a turn) or possible hurt feelings (differing opinion), no matter how unavoidable or unintentional.  Many women shy from conflict altogether–prizing niceness over rightness–in the service of showing support for our collaborators and coworkers. These admirable qualities serve at times, but constant apologizing (or smiles whatever the cost) undermines our personal effectiveness and integrity, and gets in the way of organization innovation and productivity. The ability to give and receive honest feedback is crucial to the growth and health of any organization.

Productivity requires integrity

Deb Cooksey - Building Brave Mentor, Associate General Counsel at Mt. Diablo United School District

Deb Cooksey

I frequently remind my team members that being a supportive co-worker means caring enough to give honest feedback that includes constructive criticisms of ideas/situations/behaviors that don’t support our goals  – Deb Cooksey, Associate General Counsel

Kathy Park - Building Brave Mentor, Chief Executive Officer of NCCD

Kathy Park

Leaders and managers have to model desired behaviors, and find ways to positively reward the team and individual members as they take risks. It’s important to give people training on frameworks and tools for how to do this so conflict is constructive and channeled productively. – Kathy Park, CEO

Ana Hooker Building Brave Mentor, SVP Operations - Exact Sciences

Ana Hooker

Exact Science SVP of Operations Ana Hooker recommends the book “The Fearless Organization,” about creating psychological safety in the organization. “If you can create that safe environment that allows people to be open and have frank candid discussions, you have a great formula for success.”


3 Tips for approaching without apology

  1. Stop and think about your male colleagues: do they apologize for walking in the same stairwell? Grabbing coffee at the same time? Sneezing?
  2. Try replacing sorry with thank you, excuse me, or even simply hello
  3. Check in with our mentor team by Download Building Brave’s Mobile Mentoring app for more advice from professional women at all ages and stages. Get guidance for your specific situation, or consider fresh voices and perspectives.



Building Brave Mobile Mentoring for Women App

About the Author

Meghan Wollack


Comments (0)