No Apologies Necessary

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about apologizing. Not about anything specific, just about apologizing in general – for example, it seems like many people, women in particular, feel like they have to apologize in advance of saying something. You may be thinking, Colleen, what on earth does this have to do with Business Analysis? Stay with me – I promise it will make sense.

I’m on Facebook a lot, and I go to a lot of Group discussions. Yes, youth of the world, I am that old. I even still say LOL. Anyway… Every day in most Group discussions, someone has a question or a thought and they start their post with “Delete if not allowed.” Snarky me thinks, well, go look at the rules before you post and don’t post something that doesn’t meet the rules. Pessimist me thinks, well, duh, the moderator absolutely will delete it if it’s not allowed, so, duh. But then insightful me kicks into the conversation and says, well, what other reason could there be for this person to BEGIN their post with asking it to be deleted if not allowed?

I started thinking deeply about this, and the sad truth is, many people for whatever reason seem to think it’s necessary for them to apologize for their thoughts or questions BEFORE they present them. I feel like it’s mostly women because it seems, as a woman, that we have been conditioned to only speak when spoken to and to somehow magically have the answers to questions without asking them. So why wouldn’t we apologize if we need to jump into a conversation or if we actually have a question? Like Gloria said in the Barbie movie, “It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.” Full text here:–2ElBMQbCgekkaApAYEALw_wcB

She’s right! No wonder we feel the need to apologize in advance…

That makes it tough to be a woman in business analysis (I told you I’d get back to topic). Because our job is literally to ask difficult questions. A lot of times to people in powerful positions. And by difficult, I mean asking “why” a lot. People don’t like their ways questioned, and that little three-letter word, why, sometimes packs an accusatory punch.

Remember when you were a little kid and you asked your parent, “why do I have to clean my room?” And the answer was “because I said so.” And we trembled, apologized, and cleaned our room. That wasn’t very helpful as a child to understand, and honestly, your parent may not have actually had a good answer. Perhaps the “right” answer was to have a conversation and figure out all the reasons a clean room was important and come to an understanding together.

At the end of the day, that’s all we’re trying to find out as a business analyst – why is this thing that you’ve requested so important, Powerful Senior Director? We’re not questioning your authority, or telling you you’re doing it wrong; we’re just trying to add value and need your input.

So my go-to for trying to take the sting out of asking why and sounding like I’m questioning an expert’s mere existence, was to dumb myself down. I’d lead with, “pretend I’m in kindergarten and you have to explain this to me,” or “I know this is going to sound annoying, but I’m going to ask you why a lot,” or something else equally apologetic-in-advance. And you know what? The result was absolutely NOT the collaborative understanding that I really needed. I felt small, I felt silly, I felt embarrassed, like I could not approach that person again. Depending on the interviewee, chances are I left the session with the person I needed as an advocate questioning my competence at best. And you know what else? When I changed my tune and walked in with a different approach, I got a completely different response.

So now, instead of leading with an apology, I simply set the stage for the benefits I’m there to provide for the person I’m speaking with. If I’m literally going to walk through a “Five Whys” exercise, I tell them, this is an exercise, and here’s how it works. If we’re just going to be having an interview session, I just get right to it. When I ask why or anything for clarification, I tie it back to the value that we’re trying to bring by what we’re working on for them. I do whatever I can to show how it benefits them, instead of apologizing for taking up their valuable time. It’s not the easiest thing to do, especially when the other person outranks me by several pay bands or is a “known” difficult person. But I’ve found that when I work out my “I’m an adult with a valuable perspective” muscle, the stronger it gets. And, showing respect gains respect.

So my challenge to you today is, STOP apologizing and start articulating value of the techniques and questions you need to use. It will be uncomfortable, perhaps, but the more you practice, the better you’ll feel about yourself, and the more second-nature it will become.

Let’s discuss! What have you done to be more unapologetic?

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