An apology can heal many wounds. But it can also create a lot of problems when uttered unnecessarily. An ill-placed “sorry” can undermine your credibility or suggest that you bear some responsibility for something when you don’t. Women, in particular, have a tendency to offer apologies unnecessarily, attempting to soften the blow of a demand or to protect someone else’s feelings. Saying you’re sorry all the time is not a gesture of goodwill. It’s self-sabotage.

If you’ve made a mistake or harmed someone, obviously a genuine apology is in order. But instead of using it as your default response, consider the eight times below when it’s not needed.


1. A Colleague’s Problem Impacts You

If you’re doing your share of the work, but you’re dependent on someone else to do hers and that person isn’t delivering, you have to do something to resolve the problem. But leading with an apology suggests that you are somehow partly to blame. That’s not a good message to send to your colleague—or have your supervisor overhear.


What to Do

Be calm and factual when you address the issue with your co-worker. Perhaps there’s a very good reason your colleague isn’t getting things done. Just because you aren’t apologizing doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk. Be helpful if you can. Document your efforts to move past the issue. If it doesn’t resolve it, you may need to bring your concern to your supervisor.


2. You Have Something to Say

When you preface a contribution with, “I’m sorry, but here’s what I was thinking…” you are subtly suggesting that it’s an imposition for those around the table to listen to you and consider your input. Ridiculous. You were hired because you’re qualified and capable.


What to Do

Sit up straight, and offer your idea or input with confidence. If it gets rejected, so be it. At least you’re willing to speak up, and a good supervisor will value your ability to contribute, even if your idea doesn’t always “win.”


3. You Need Help

No one gets to the top alone, so it’s unlikely you will make it to retirement without ever having to ask for assistance.


What to Do

Be gracious in your request and look for an opportunity to return the favor as soon as you can. If the help being provided turns into a bigger undertaking than you anticipated, then you can (and should) apologize. Otherwise, asking the occasional favor and providing your assistance in turn is simply part of human interaction.


4. You’re Owed Money

Do you expect your stylist to apologize when it’s time for you to pay for your haircut? Of course not—everyone deserves to be compensated for his work.


What to Do

No need to be rude if you learn that your client simply can’t pay in full right away. Look for a solution and develop a timeline on payment. It’s important to be clear and firm about your expectations, and to put any agreement in writing in case you need to pursue legal action later. And if your company is slacking on reimbursement charges, don’t apologize for following up.


5. You’re Waiting for a Decision

The client is always right. Right? Unfortunately, a client who can’t make a decision, who expects sweeping changes halfway through a project, or who demands extras like a rush job and then leaves the product sitting for weeks, might be a bigger problem than he’s are worth. If you aren’t careful, these clients will cost you money.


What to Do

It’s important to be clear about the details of a project upfront. Then, if the client wants changes or additional perks, you can charge appropriately. When those requests pop up, your only obligation is to be clear and professional in addressing how the changes will impact the budget and timeline.


6. You Need More Information

A single interview doesn’t always provide all of the information needed to make a confident decision, and if you get an offer after just one short meeting, it’s totally OK to ask follow-up questions.


What to Do

Gather your thoughts, prepare your questions, and then proceed with your email or phone call. Remember, interviews and negotiations are two-way streets—and you definitely don’t need to apologize for negotiating an offer.


7. You’re Taking Time Off

Vacation time or PTO is part of your employment package, and using it is imperative to your productivity. And we all get sick; that’s why there are sick days. You don’t need to apologize for getting the flu or taking a summer holiday.


What to Do

Make requests for time off well ahead of time whenever possible. Do everything in your power to work ahead and notify appropriate people that you’ll be gone. In other words, be responsible so your colleagues aren’t scrambling while you’re away. The exception to offering an apology when you’re taking time off is if your leave happens to fall during an inopportune time at the company, resulting in some inconvenience for your co-workers.


8. You Require Something to Do Your Job

A writer can’t do much without a word processing program. A graphic designer will only get so far with paper and pencil. Whether you need tangible tools, software, or training, you deserve to have the appropriate tools to do your job well. Apologizing as you ask for items that are necessary for you to perform your role implies that maybe you don’t really need or deserve those things.


What to Do

Gather your thoughts about what you need and why so you can explain it clearly. Bear in mind that if your boss doesn’t have your expertise, he or she may not understand your request unless you’re explicit in your reasoning. If, after you make your case, you’re denied, calmly ask, “Any suggestions for how I go about doing X?” Be prepared to explain how the decision’ll impact you, especially if an alternative reasonable solution isn’t suggested.


Thoughtfulness and genuineness will go a long way in building relationships and your career, and appropriate apologies are an important part of being thoughtful and genuine. But if you pepper your communications with apologies on the regular, chances are you’ll send some very subtle but damaging messages that you’re incompetent, and that’s not a good look. Avoid this characterization by paying attention to your communication. Practice standing up straight and speaking without working “sorry” into the conversation. If you have an employer who only responds to groveling, you should probably start the job search process, and I’m not sorry for saying so.


Photo of women working together courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.