BY: Joanna Samuels, B.Ed (Adult Education), M.Ed, CMF, CTDP, RRP
I am a new immigrant who is an internationally trained Java Developer. Within a couple of months after I arrived, I secured work in my field at a small boutique IT company. I am part of a team of 10 with a project manager and employees from other related professions. Many of the employees are constantly apologizing. This is opposite from the workplace culture that I come from. “I am sorry” seems to be a common phrase.My boss says it is typical Canadian cultural way of communication.
Maybe I too should be apologizing. Am I missing the cues? Please can you guide me with this intercultural communication issue.
Signed: Sorry is never too late (SNL)
Apologizing is definitely a Canadian stereotype. It could be a gesture of politeness or, as Jordan Rane mentioned in his CNN report, it doesn’t always mean we are apologizing.
Sometimes, it is a good idea to apologize on the job. Don’t hesitate to admit you are wrong and take responsibility for your errors, when appropriate. Let’s explore 10 things you need to apologize for at work, based on an article by Liz Ryan:
1. If you take on an employee’s responsibilities or job description, even by accident or make a decision that was not in your job scope, you definitely need to apologize. Ryan recommends calling or talking in person to the employee and say: “I just found out I did something I shouldn’t have done. I’m sorry. I didn’t understand how that worked.”
2. Inadvertently criticizing or appearing to criticize someone.
3. Losing your temper.
4. Saying something negative behind your co-worker’s back, intentionally or not.
5. Avoiding your responsibilities. For example, not reporting a problem when the equipment or a process didn’t work, if you were responsible for maintaining it.
6. Missing a deadline. No apology will work, if this happens, though. This could become a larger issue that you will have to face. This is dangerous territory. You are better off notifying your boss of this in advance and try to problem-solve together.
7. Not fulfilling your duties and leaving your co-worker or a customer hanging. You can avoid this situation from happening by being organized, prepared and not being afraid of asking for help.
Don’t overdo the apologies, however. Chose your words with care and make sure they’re genuine. Too much apologizing can sound insincere or unassertive.
The Canadian practice of apologizing can be a useful one for you on the job, as a way of taking responsibility for your real mistakes. Keep in mind, though, that often apologies are not enough — make sure to find ways to remedy your mistakes and smooth over ruffled feathers, if feelings were hurt as a result of your behaviour.
To submit your questions for this column in confidence, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joanna Samuels B.Ed. (Adult Education), M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP is a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator who works at JVS Toronto as a Job Developer/Job Coach/Workshop Facilitator. Also, Joanna is a part-time instructor of employment counselling with people with disabilities at George Brown College.