How Saying “I’m Sorry” Can Sabotage Your Leadership Credibility…and What to do About It!

Written by on August 5, 2021

I have a super cool job. I get to travel the world and meet amazing people. At a recent leadership training for Signature Leaders, I met Janet VanWormer. We were having a discussion about women in leadership. We were talking about self-limiting beliefs and ways women sabotage their credibility. In the middle of the discussion, Janet offered the group this gem that I couldn’t pass up sharing. Here is what she communicated that day:

I used to find myself saying, “I’m sorry,” all the time – literally, every day. I wrote it in emails. I texted it to colleagues. I said it out loud.

“I’m sorry I’m late for this meeting.”

“I’m sorry for taking so long to respond to your email.”

“I’m sorry for asking so many questions.”

I thought I was being polite and kind, which are two characteristics I value deeply. 

One day, I apologized for being late – to my communication coach.  He looked right at me and said, “stop saying you’re sorry. Instead, say thank you.” 

When you are late, say: “Thank you for waiting for me.”

When it takes a bit longer to deliver on something, say: “Thank you for your patience.”

When you need to ask a lot of questions, say: “Thank you for taking all of my questions.”

The reason this works is simple:

When I say I’m sorry, I’m making a withdrawal. The recipient had to give me something or do something for me.

When I say thank you, I’m making a deposit.  The recipient already did something for me and I’m showing appreciation. 

Using these two words, “thank you,” has been powerful.  I’m no longer ruminating in a debt of withdrawals.  I’m making relational deposits and focusing on the positive, which has paid dividends in my relationships – and lifted the weight of guilt off my shoulders.  

(As an aside, I haven’t given up altogether on saying, “I’m sorry.”  I reserve that for its intended use – owning up and seeking repair when I have wronged someone.)


While this was said particularly in relation to women – this applies to anyone in the workplace. Thank you, Janet, for the great insight!