Sorry to bother you

"Sorry to bother you..."

When was the last time you approached someone for help and started the conversation with “Sorry to bother you”? Why did you say that? Often, we do it to be polite and acknowledge the interruption. That is all well and good, however there is no reason to apologize for asking for help.

We need to recognize that people are busy and likely engrossed in what they are doing. It is polite to recognize that we are interrupting them. It doesn’t warrant an apology, you haven’t made a mistake or done anything wrong. Save the apology for when it’s appropriate such as “Sorry I’m late getting you this information the system was down, and I couldn’t get into the database.”

When we apologize when it isn’t warranted, we diminish our credibility and it comes across as a lack of confidence. Studies show that women find more reasons to apologize then men do. Why are you undermining yourself by apologizing?

4 Ways to be polite without apologizing

  1. Start with kindness in mind. Smile when you greet the person. This works even when you are typing an email as your brain thinks you are happy, so it is easier to find kind words.
  2. Recognize the interruption. Instead of apologizing for interrupting, acknowledge it by recognizing the impact on the person’s time. “I know you are busy so if now isn’t a good time, please let me know.” “If you have a few minutes I would like to ask/talk to you about….”. Be sure to keep your conversation to a few minutes, unless given permission to go longer.
  3. Offer alternatives. Suggest another way to get your answer if the person is tied up at that time. “I have a few questions about project X, would you have time later today to talk or would it be better for me to email them to you?” and/or “Is there someone else I can go to for advice?” This puts the other person in control of how you will interact with them to get the help you need.
  4. Express gratitude. No matter how the conversation goes, thank the person for their time and attention. It can be as simple as “Thank you for making time for me.” If the conversation will be later, you can say “I appreciate you finding time for me later today.”

Smart successful people know they need help on a variety of things, as they don’t know everything, so they ask for it. No one thinks less of them for getting help when needed and no one expects them to apologize for needing help. The great leaders recognize the need for help and are respectful to those that help them. Isn’t it time for you to be comfortable with getting help and polite when asking for it?


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