Over-Apologizers Anonymous

“Apologizing when we have done something wrong is a real strength, but compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.” — Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist, Medicine Revived

I believe that all relationships should be two-sided. A push and pull, yin and yang, ebb and flow: balanced. When we over apologize, we take ownership for things that are not our own. The relationship becomes one-sided, where one person is always in the right and the other is always in the wrong.

What types of relationships fit into that dynamic?

Victim/villain comes to mind…

However you want to characterize it, over apologizing leaves no room for evolution by either party. The victim hones her skills at subservience, silence, and carrying burdens that are not her own. The villain hones her skills at skirting responsibility, blaming others and excuse-making. Both parties lose the opportunity to hone their voice and self-confidence, to develop the skills that accompany a healthy relationship: trust, partnership, humility, honesty, and respect.

Over apologizing is often the easy route. It’s easier to take on all the blame than it is to stand up for yourself. It’s easier to believe that it was all your fault than to examine the things you did right. This victim mentality is pervasive and can seep into all aspects of your life if left unchecked.

So why do we over apologize?

As I mentioned above, the primary reason we do it is that it’s easier. It is the path of least resistance. We don’t want to do the hard thing and speak our truth. We don’t want to make waves. We are biologically programmed to avoid conflict after all!

Therein lies the second reason that we do this: we don’t want the other person to think poorly of us. We don’t want to be seen as a muckraker, argumentative, or god-forbid a human with feelings. Buried deeper within this rationale is that we are trying to control how the other person thinks of us. We want them to like us. We want them to think we are a team player. We have thick skin. We don’t make trouble.

To be clear: We. Are. Being. Manipulative.

Changing what we think, feel, say, and do because we want something to think about us in a certain way is absolutely manipulation in its noblest form.

So not only are we not being authentic by hiding our truth, we are often showing up in a manner than is inconsistent with our values and character. When considered in this light, over apologizing becomes a bit more distasteful.

Further, when we wrongly apologize, we are taking ownership for something. We are implying that there was something overlooked. Something we could have and should have gotten right the first time. Is that true? Could you have foreseen that the client was going to change their mind? That the contractor was going to cancel last minute after you made your husband come home from work for the appointment? Before you consider uttering the words “I’m sorry,” first get clear on what your role was in the “problem.” If there is no clear failure on your behalf — stop talking.

We mustn’t allow ourselves to take ownership for things that are not our own. Rather, we must strive to share the experiences than should be SHARED between all parties. Recognize the discomfort of the situation for all parties but do not apologize for it, as if you created it. Acknowledge that things didn’t go as well as they could have but don’t pretend that the circumstances were masterminded by you and therefore you must apologize.

Sometimes things go wrong. That is life. Unless you are some secret deity, stop taking ownership for it.

Instead of apologizing, try on these options:

Good catch, I hadn’t considered that angle.

Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

Thanks for starting the meeting when my appointment ran long.

Is now a good time to chat? (Instead of “Sorry to bother you…”)

A few things I am taking away from this experience are….

This must be really frustrating for you too.

I can understand why you might be angry about this.

I would like to add… (Instead of “I’m sorry but…”)

Wow, this is really frustrating.

I appreciate your perspective, but I don’t understand why…

Whoops!

Use I’m sorry only if you have truly done something wrong that falls squarely on your shoulders.

And, most importantly, only use it when you really mean it. “I’m sorry” should be a phrase that, when it comes out of your mouth, others appreciate it and know it is genuine because it is not something you throw around lightly.

Chronic over apologizer? If the above concepts make you uncomfortable, grab a free session and start trimming “I’m sorry” out of your standard vocabulary.


Photo by Laura Seaman on Unsplash

Living Authentically

As women in the legal industry, we have the unfortunate “opportunity” to be treated differently. Sexually suggestive comments, demeaning remarks about women in general, getting mistaken for a secretary, being compensated unfairly, just to name a few. One recent study concluded that sexual harassment in the legal industry is at epidemic proportions. Sadly, I have never met a woman in the legal industry who has not experienced some of these challenges.

Yet, despite our ability to clearly articulate ourselves and zealously defend others, so many of my clients and colleagues shy away from defending themselves.

Why is that? 

Many of my clients relate stories to me about their work environment that remind me of my experiences in an abusive relationship. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our work relationships are not all that much different than controlling and toxic romantic relationships.

What is also similar about the two is that in both instances, we have the opportunity to stand up for ourselves, set boundaries, and re-write our story but many of us decline to do so.

If you are living in a work environment that you believe is “toxic”, now is the time to take back your agency. Erase the victim mindset and start taking control of your life. This will likely require you to have some uncomfortable conversations, it might require boundaries, and it most certainly will require you to start re-thinking your life.

We cannot overcome challenging relationships if we believe the relationship is happening to us and we just have to accept it.

When it comes to unhealthy romantic relationships, we are often quick to judge those women who stay too long or “put up with” too much. But how is staying in an abusive and toxic working environment any different?

Whether it is our personal life or our professional life, we have the power to make choices.

We get to decide what is acceptable for us. We get to decide whether to stay in the relationship or not. If you believe that your boss treats you poorly or you feel taken advantage of, silence in that aspect of your life is akin to tacit approval of such mistreatment in your personal life. So why is it that we are so quick to accept things professionally that we would never accept personally?

Because we are wed to faulty beliefs:

This is just the way it is

I can’t change it, why make a fuss?

I have to take it, he gives me all my work

If I say something, they will think I’m being emotional or a complainer

These thoughts are riddled with problems.

First, they are neither true nor factual. They are simply opinions. Opinions that form the basis for resignation and silence. We treat them as absolute facts but they are not. They are things we have chosen to believe.

Second, those beliefs justify our willingness to accept treatment that is not consistent with who we are. We end up pretending to be someone we are not, accepting things we are not actually okay with. We end up lying to all those around us; giving them a false impression of what’s important to us.

Third, you are sacrificing your values and dignity in an attempt to control how others think of you.

I’m not going to say anything because I don’t want to be seen as a complainer.

You are being silent because you are trying to manipulate how others see and think of you. This never works. What I often see happening is that eventually the façade becomes too heavy to bear and women abruptly quit their jobs with little to no explanation given. The firms are either shocked or completely confused by the result and any opportunity for positive change and honesty is eclipsed.

Make a commitment to be authentic in all or your relationships.

If we continue to believe that the legal environment is “just not for us”, we will continue to drop out of the fight without putting on our boxing gloves. If you believe you have been mistreated or you believe that there is room for improvement in your working relationships, commit to having those uncomfortable conversations. You never know, you might foster change for the next generation of women in your position.

Promise yourself that when and if you leave your firm there will be no confusion about your rationale for leaving.

There will be no confusion because you will have voiced your concerns and thoughts openly and honestly during your tenure. The reasons for your departure will have all been clearly laid out for them already.

When we are silent about our struggles in the legal industry we handicap ourselves and we allow bad behavior to continue.

Find your voice and start living authentically, it’s so much more fun than the alternative.

Not sure how to have those difficult conversations? Get some free support today. The silence isn’t worth it.


Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

I “Should” Help, I’m an Attorney

The delightfully irritating word “should.”

Should is such a worthless word. The word “should” only matters when we are talking about something factual, provable, demonstrable. My coffee pot should turn on when I plug it in. My email should transmit when I click send. The light should turn on when I flip the switch.

“Should” makes sense in this scenario because these things are designed to operate in a certain way. There’s a manual that supports your conclusion that these machines are supposed to act in a certain way. You bought them for a very specific purpose, to perform a very clear task. We know what this thing is supposed to do: it is widely understood and accepted.

That usage has no translation to human beings. There is no manual, there is no widely understood and accepted understanding of how we are supposed to act.

You can argue religious mores and social norms all you like; they are not universally held or agreed upon.

But yet here we are, constantly telling ourselves what we “should” be doing. How we are supposed to act.

As a practicing lawyer, I often find myself in situations where people that I love want me to help them sort out their legal struggles. (For background, my specialty is in ERISA, taxes, DOL/IRS funsies.) In all honesty, my utility in helping family and friends with their legal issues is fairly limited. File a lawsuit? No thanks, my secretary knows more about that than I do (she also supports a busy litigator).  It’s difficult for non-lawyers to appreciate that lawyers, like doctors, have their own unique specialties. Just as you would not ask a gynecologist to opine on your ear ache, asking an ERISA attorney to advise you on your divorce is ill-advised (for all parties).

But yet, so many of my clients struggle with saying no.

They have a hard time admitting that they don’t know all aspects of the law. They have a hard time saying “no” to their loved ones who want support for their legal challenges. They know enough to be dangerous and can probably “figure it out.”

So many of my clients back themselves into a corner, agreeing to do things that they don’t REALLY want to do, things that they shouldn’t do, things that ask them to color outside the lines. They agree to do it because they feel like they “should” help as much as they can. But then as they settle into the work, they are fuming. How could they have asked me to do this? How rude of them to expect that I have time for this? They should be paying someone to do this (not me!).

Instead of being honest with the people in our lives, we mislead them and mischaracterize our interest in helping. In other words, we lie to them and then we get angry for having to do the work. We pretend like these other people forced us into this predicament. Why? Because we SHOULD help.

What would it be like to have an honest and authentic conversation with these people instead of lying to them? What would it be like to believe

I can help them to the best of my ability without taking on this project for them. I can support from the sidelines.

This goes for all areas of our lives where we struggle to say NO to those we love.

We want them to love us, admire us, believe in us.

We are so willing to trade our own truth for the possibility of them thinking about us in a certain way. This is really very simple manipulation! But here’s the truth, you can’t control what they think of you. So it’s a totally FUTILE manipulation attempt.

What’s more, you can decide what you want to make it mean when you say “no.” You can choose to believe that you are letting them down and that you SHOULD help them. Or you can choose to believe that loving them and  being honest with them is your greatest contribution.

You can support your loved ones and not agree to do things you don’t want to do.

Seek authenticity and honesty in all your relationships. It is okay to say “No” when you want to say no.

You don’t need a good reason for it and you don’t need to explain yourself. There is no manual you must follow, you get to do whatever you want because you are a human. Period.

What is the upside of doing that thing you didn’t want to do? How much fun is it to fume about the project every step of the way and beat yourself up for saying yes? How is that serving the relationship?

As lawyers, we have a lot of experience and knowledge that we can offer those around us. With that ability comes the need to set clear boundaries and honor yourself by learning when to say no.

Invest in your relationships and invest in your own integrity. Your relationships will thrive because of it.

Having a challenging relationship? Need help saying no? I’m free if you are.


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Having Difficult Conversations

One of the inevitable results of being a grownup in this world is that you will often be faced with the “opportunity” to have difficult conversations with other humans.

I like to think of these as “opportunities” because, despite being an attorney, I am not a huge fan of confrontation and I really don’t like upsetting other people. These are an opportunity for me to flex muscles I don’t use very often and operate outside my comfort zone.

I find that one of the reasons people avoid having difficult conversations is because they want the other person to like them. They don’t want to be thought of as a bitch or as difficult. They are afraid the individual will bad mouth them to others and they don’t want those other people to judge them too or, worst of all, agree that they really are a bitch on a power trip.

These conversations are scary because it forces us to let go of what other people might think of us. If the conversation is important to you, you like your reasons for having the conversation, and you are in a good emotional space to have the conversation (read: not foaming at the mouth), then have the damn conversation.

Stop worrying about what the other person will think about you.

The beauty of this is that it is an investment in the authentic you. The more you live with authenticity and stay true to your values other people will see it and grow to respect it. That makes it a lot more difficult for bad gossip to find traction. But regardless, we can’t control what other people say, do, or think. The only thing we can control is how we show up.

So the choice really becomes: are you willing to live accordance with your truth or would you prefer to continue living a lie (i.e., ignoring the issue, avoiding the conversation, and pretending everything is “fine”?).

In my experience, any time we try to ignore what we really think and feel about a situation, it simply compounds itself and grows stronger until we blow up. That’s an even better way to maintain your spotless reputation, no?

Don’t ignore the feelings. They will come back. We’ve all had those fights where the other party pulls 1,000 old fights and gripes out of their back pocket leaving you dumbfounded. You can’t fight a battle on 1,000 fronts. If it is important to you, discuss it with the other person or forever relinquish your right to bring it up at a later date as part of another fight. Period.

In that sense, having those difficult conversations now and foreclosing a future explosion is a kindness to everyone involved. Shifting your mindset to this is going to be better for our relationship and everyone around us will allow you to approach the conversation from a much healthier mental space. Often times, we convince ourselves This is going to go terribly wrong; this is going to be a huge fight and we waste so much time and energy ramping up for some battle royale that never comes. Appreciate that this is a positive exercise and that your intentions are to improve the relationship. Stop expecting the worst.

Focus on the WHY.

Whenever I am gearing up for a difficult conversation, I ask myself, What is it that I want? Why am I having this discussion? I usually can find that the true intention is to be honest and my “why” is usually because this relationship is important to me and I want us to have a healthy relationship.  I focus my energy there instead of ruminating about how frustrated I am about XYZ.

From there I can go into the conversation seeing the big picture and understanding why the exchange is critical. It allows me to approach the conversation from a place of curiosity and respect.

Stop worrying about what the other person is going to think about you or how they are going to feel if you are honest with them. You can’t control their thoughts or emotions so stop trying to.

Be in the moment with an open attitude and a sincere willingness to try and understand the other person’s point of view. Make a conscious effort to stop thinking of what you are going to say next and just absorb what is being said. Try to understand what is going on.

Just. Be. Curious.

I sometimes imagine myself as a behavioral specialist examining the other person and trying to understand what is going on with them. It allows me to remove myself from the situation and come to it from a different perspective.

Be quiet, be curious, and invest in the opportunity to be vulnerable and honest with another other person. You must flex the muscle to make it stronger!

Need support gearing up for a difficult conversation? Schedule a free consultation and clear out the mental chatter before you dive in. What do you have to lose?

The Power of IDK

I was sitting in a meeting earlier this year listening to a particularly charismatic CEO address all the officers of a Fortune 500 company. At the end of the presentation, he opened the session up to questions from the officers. As questions poured in, I realized that I was sitting next to a particularly challenging question asker (yes, that’s a word. I know, I was surprised too).

My neighbor was hurling intense and challenging questions at the CEO from the back of the room and, at times, interrupting the speaker to add additional questions. Finally, the individual asked a particularly difficult question and the CEO responded, “You know, that’s a good question and I don’t know the answer to that.”

Period. He did not offer to follow-up. He did not offer to take on additional work to flush out the answer. He did not apologize. He gave an honest answer. We moved on.

I instantly l liked him more than I had 30 seconds ago. In my life at corporate law firms I cannot recall any instance where the leadership used the phrase “I don’t know.”

When I was leading a practice, one of the biggest red flags for me was when someone I was working with would refuse to simply say “I don’t know.” In my past, I have worked with seasoned attorneys who, rather than say IDK, would tap dance around the issue offering all sorts of manufactured legal support. At first, I trusted their commentary and ran off on a fool’s errand trying to find the support for what they were telling me. Eventually, I realized that they didn’t know the answer and were just manufacturing legal guidance.

It’s one thing to theorize and say you are theorizing, it’s another thing to answer a question with authority and references to legal support when you have no idea what you are talking about. Within the team, it became a running joke. We all knew when she was going out of her way to avoid saying IDK and we all expressed our irritation for all the time and energy we spent trying to find support for what she was saying. In the end, no one trusted her judgment and we stopped asking her opinion. All because she refused to say those three little words.

Why do people refuse to acknowledge when they don’t know something?

Because they are trying to manipulate you.

Hear me out. When someone is deliberately avoiding those words, it is because they want you to believe that they know. They want you to believe they are knowledgeable in all things. They want you to trust their judgment and their opinions. The common theme here is this:

They want you to think about them in a certain way.

If that is not manipulation, I don’t know what is. Now, I am not saying that these people are intentionally being manipulative. I actually believe that the manipulative element of these interactions is simply a byproduct of a larger issue. That issue is their own damn mind.

When people are afraid to own that they don’t, in fact, know everything, they are making “I don’t know” mean something negative about themselves. Often times, when people say, “I don’t know.” Their brain erupts with thoughts of shortcomings:

I should know this. I’m an idiot for not knowing that. How could I not know that?! What is wrong with me? This person is going to think I’m dumb. If I don’ t know this, they are going to think I’m not good at my job.

They make not knowing, mean something horrible and negative about themselves. So rather than have those thoughts and think those feelings, they run in the opposite direction and throw a bunch of BS at the problem. The net results are this…

When asked a question, a person thinks, I should know the answer to this; if I say “I don’t know” they will think I don’t know what I’m talking about. So, the person offers all sorts of answers and sends the other person on a hopeless quest. The end result is that the original inquirer eventually concludes: They have no idea what they are talking about.

The net result is the exact result the person was trying to avoid!! It’s pure futility!

As practice group chair, one of the things I always told young attorneys was this: If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. Don’t waste my time and yours trying to act like you do. I will find out and I will trust you less thereafter.

Honesty builds trust and helps relationship flourish. Do not make the same mistake my past partner made. In the end, she lost a lot of credibility and isolated herself. Being able to recognize that you don’t know something demonstrates confidence. How do you get there? Try on these thoughts:

No one expects me to know everything.

I can be humble and honest and admit when I have more to learn.

It’s okay if I don’t know everything; I am always learning.

I value honesty in my working relationships.

I am not perfect or all-knowing.

I am willing to admit when I don’t know something.

Those thoughts are going to get you so much farther than thinking:

I’m an idiot if I don’t know the answer to this.

I should have researched that!

How could I not have checked that?!

They are going to think I am dumb if I say I don’t know.

The next time you catch yourself trying to avoid saying, I don’t know, try on one of these thoughts and see how different honesty feels.

Thought work is powerful work. It is simple but it’s not easy. Coach with me and learn how to better manage your thoughts for greater success in your life and your career.