7 “Apologetic Phrases” Women Use At Work and 7 Assertive Alternatives

Assertiveness is a trait is NOT about being bossy or overriding other people.

It is about conveying your message in a polite and respectful way whilst considering all of the people that are part of the conversation.

It needs to be sensitive to their demands and preferences and give you the opportunity to share your message effectively without putting yourself down.

1.‘Sorry to bother you…’

If you are inclined towards passivity, even asking for the smallest things can feel monumental.

When communicating it is important to explain what you need as directly as possible rather than apologise for it. You need to explain what it is that you specifically need assistance with, so you need to help people understand that you value their contribution and explain how helpful it would be for them to support you in some way.

  • Assertive alternative: ‘Can you please…

2. ‘No worries if not…’

Much has been made about this statement, especially after a tweet by an American journalist Marianne Eloise recently went viral.

‘I already know I use “no worries if not” as a cheery way to cloak my insecurity and fears that the person receiving the message will have no interest,’ she wrote in a piece for Refinery 29.

‘No worries if not’ reads submissively and does little to encourage people to consider anything you might be offering. It is far nicer to explain how you would like someone to join you rather than make it seem as if they probably would prefer not to join you before they have even considered the option.

The phrase can also leave you hanging as it doesn’t motivate people to offer a definitive answer.

  • Assertive alternative: ‘Thanks for considering ______,  and please let me know what you decide… ‘

3. ‘I’m probably wrong but… ‘

Starting any sentence saying you are wrong doesn’t help someone then turn around and consider you might be right. If you say you would like something, then the person can either decide whether to agree or not.

A more direct approach can bridge the gap and make it less complicated to get what you need, and or garner the support of others.

  • Assertive alternative: ‘I would like… ‘

4. ‘I know you’re busy but… ‘

Being busy is a given these days which means prefacing an email with this statement is redundant.

If you are in a management or leadership position, you will need to be able to delegate effectively and ask for what needs to be done assertively.

So long as your request is reasonable and within the person’s job description, there is nothing wrong with asking straight up.

‘It may be necessary to confirm all details and time frames when making the request and confirm when it has been completed.’

Assertive alternative: ‘I would like you to… ‘

5. ‘Just reaching out… ‘

‘Just reaching out’ has become a phrase people use to suggest they hope to connect in some way.

However, Sue said before including the overused saying stop for a moment to ask yourself what is the aim of your message: Do you have a question that needs answering or a task that needs completing?

‘If you are only ‘reaching’ it doesn’t suggest an action or response is required,’ she said.

‘Therefore the person may just think you are curious rather than needing a definitive answer.

She added a further downside to the phrase was it can sound patronising or controlling, as if you are checking up on the person.

  • Assertive alternative: ‘I would like to know… ‘

6. ‘Just checking in… ‘

If a task or an assignment is taking longer than expected, or you need a response before you can proceed, ‘checking in’ isn’t the way to ask for what you need.

”Checking in’ could create a feeling of “punishment”, especially if the person has not finished the task.

There may have been some unexpected challenges or delays. Asking for what you really need makes life simpler.

  • Assertive alternative: ‘Can you please give me an update on… ‘

7. ‘Sorry to be a pain… ‘

This statement is complicated because it can sound as if you’re attempting to offer the person some degree of flexibility while trying to get the answers you need.

Sue said while it is important to acknowledge a person’s situation if you know they are under pressure, it’s also acceptable to request an answer by a certain date and time.

‘They may have been busy or there could be some other issue that you know about that you could also mention before requesting an update,’ she said.

  • Assertive alternative: ‘I understand you may be busy. Could you please give me an update by [date and time]’



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