Lets stop feeling like we need to say sorry – when we don’t

Caroline Wozniacki is Denmark’s first grand slam winner, winning the Australian Open women’s tennis final on Saturday night.

Her celebratory speech was heartfelt, as were her apologies:

“I’ve dreamt of this moment for so many years, to be here it’s a dream come true. My voice is shaking, I never cry but today is a very emotional moment.

“I want to congratulate Simona. I know that today is a tough day, I’m sorry that I had to win today!

“I’m sure we’ll have many matches in the future. It was an incredible match, incredible fight and again I’m sorry!”

Why do women tend to apologise more than men? 

Language patterns develop in our formative years. According to Deloitte Digital’s Women at Work podcast https://hbr.org/2018/01/podcast-women-at-work, if you look at how girls and boys play in same sex groups, the differences are stark. For example, when girls play together, girls who ‘talk themselves up” are criticised as being ‘bossy’. The implication is that girls then learn to minimise themselves. Boys on the other hand, tend to lean toward more rough and tumble play and play fighting, and they’re more comfortable talking about what they are good at.

How do these traits play out at work? Women tend to talk in ways that downplay their authority. For example, a female might say to her direct report “Sorry to interrupt, can you do this for me?”, compared to a male counterpart who is more likely to make the request directly. Men will tend to challenge and debate ideas to explore them and be more comfortable with conflict. The podcast summarises that women are socialised to be less confident as well as sound less confident.

Women hate the idea they are full of themselves

The podcast outlined Laurie Hetherington’s research at her university where first year female students chose to either make their academic grade expectations public or hidden. Results showed that women who made their expectations public predicted lower grades. In other words, they downplayed what grade they expected so they wouldn’t come across as boastful or ‘too full of themselves’. This finding rang true in my own experience at University – I downplayed what I wanted to achieve in my exams and final grades in case I scored lower. Doubting myself to lose was easier than doubting myself to win.

Do you put yourself down too easily?

Let’s stop apologising when no apology is wanted, expected or necessary. Let’s get over ourselves and stop putting ourselves down. Let’s stop being so harsh on each other. Instead, let’s accept and love ourselves as we are so that we can be kind to ourselves and others.

Above all, you’ve earned the right to succeed.

Lastly, as I contemplate my 5-year-old daughter Kiara starting school tomorrow, I reflect on her confidence to speak up and speak her mind. While her stubbornness drives me crazy at times, I hope, for her sake, she never loses the ability to stick up for herself, be herself, and say what she wants to say.

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