Have you ever made a perfectly reasonable request — for a raise or for help with a project — and been met by a ridiculous, blustery, over-the-top negative response? Did it go so badly, in fact, that you felt stupid and wrong for having dared to ask in the first place?
Now, maybe the person you were talking to was just a certifiable jerk. Totally possible.
But — and I say this with love — it might have been your apology energy.
You may have heard this before, but while words are important, much of the communication that happens between humans is actually nonverbal.
Our posture, our tone of voice, the clothes we wear, the way we stand or sit, our eye contact, even our heart rate — these are powerfully communicating all sorts of things to the people around us.
Many women are shocked to learn that they’re accidentally communicating something that’s costing them raises, promotions, and support. They’re communicating a nonverbal apology.
In fact, they’re broadcasting, “I’m so sorry! For everything! Please don’t be mad at me!” so loudly that it drowns out their actual words.
Learning to make empowered requests is something no one teaches us, but it’s a crucial skill for a woman who wants to be successful. The best way to sabotage yourself is by apologizing for wanting the very thing you’re requesting.
Let’s take a look at a low-stakes request, like “Please send me the report that was due yesterday.”
Imagine yourself voicing those words hesitantly, softly, with your head cocked to the side. “Ummm, I know you’re busy, and I hate to bother you, but do you think you can get me that report? If it’s not too much trouble …” While you’re asking, you’re fidgeting uncomfortably with your fingers and looking down at the floor.
In other words, your big nonverbal communication is, “I’m doing something bad right now, and you should be appalled at my request and irritated by my very existence.” And people will believe what you tell them on that nonverbal frequency.
Imagine if you brought that dynamic to every negotiation. How much would it cost you over the course of your career?
Now, the important thing is that you don’t beat yourself up. We are working against centuries of cultural conditioning. Apologizing, contorting, manipulating — these are viable options of navigating the world when you don’t have any power or legal rights. But they are counterproductive, self-sabotaging habits, and it’s time to break them.
My clients often worry that finding a new, more assertive way of communicating will create conflict, but they are surprised to find that the opposite is true. Even when the answer is no, they feel stronger and clearer.
The next time you need to ask for something, run through the conversation in your head or out loud, facing a mirror. Listen to the way your voice sounds. Is it quavery? Are you ending your sentences with question marks instead of periods? Is there a lot of over-explaining? Do you notice yourself twisting your body?
That’s apology energy, and it will sabotage you.
It might take some experimenting. That’s normal. You’re learning a new verbal dance, and you’ll need some practice. Just be sure to practice with a friend, not your boss!
Run through your words until you can hear yourself say them clearly, graciously, with warmth and humor — and with zero apologies.
Then, go make that empowered request. For more ways to use your words powerfully, grab this free resource here.
Anna Kunnecke is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.