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Being unapologetic without being a b***h

Being unapologetic means that you have more choice, more control, and more ways to get what you want to get done, done.

Women in red checked shirt looking confidently at the camera. She stands in front of a white board. She has long dark straight hair with dyed green ends.
Unapologetically you

Being unapologetic means having the confidence in your own experience and expertise to speak up when you want to. Without worrying about coming across like you are an aggressive, pushy, bossy, know-it-all, impertinent, mean, angry, crazy, out of place, hysterical, frustrated, upset, upstart, ladder-climbing, brown-nosing, superior, bitch.

Back to the table

“Get the discussion that's needed without the risk of coming across frustrated or out of control.”

Rather than calling people out for talking “off-topic”, assume that they’re just expressing their enthusiasm for the subject. Choose not to take it personally but clearly restate your expected outcomes from that meeting and confidently remind people of agreed priorities. If appropriate, you can also suggest that this topic needs a separate discussion to give it the attention it deserves. Speaking up with respect and authority will pull people back to the table, it will get you the discussion that’s needed without the risk of you coming across as frustrated or not in control of the situation.


Being unapologetic - the benefits:

“Make more informed decisions, more confidently.”

Being unapologetic means being able to present your case, in whichever situation you choose, in a calm, collected, intentional, and powerful way. It means being in control of the cause and effect you create. It means being seen as informed and a valuable addition to any team. It means people will seek out your input and your time. It means that people are more likely to do what you say, as you have been clear (and unapologetic) in the asking.

Many of us are people pleasers and many of us like to keep the peace. The trick to remaining yourself AND becoming less apologetic is to know when and where you’d like to be stronger and when it is beneficial to placate.

Price or salary negotiation are prime examples of when you might choose to be more unapologetic. Negotiations are a transactional experience, they are often isolated or one-off and there is less need to “please” the other party. Numerous studies conclude that women tend to be less comfortable or willing to negotiate. In one report they state that women will pay as much as $1,353 to avoid negotiating the price of a car, what else is this indicative of, what else have many of us paid over the odds to get what we wanted whilst making everyone else happy too? This issue of negotiating price becomes particularly apparent, when it comes to salary agreements. The impact of going to the negotiation confident and prepared can last a lifetime - women who consistently negotiate their salary increases are shown to earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don't.

Being unapologetic is a state of being, not a binary choice. It is another tool to add to your arsenal and it focuses on receiving and providing relevant information more clearly. Not to be confused with removing the word sorry from your vocabulary entirely, being unapologetic will allow you, and those around you, to make more informed decisions, more confidently.

Being unapologetic - the impact on leadership:

“We undermine ourselves, and our leadership.”

Just to be clear, this is an argument in favour of apologising, when appropriate. Leadership is made up of courage, ownership, and personal responsibility.

“We are frequently taught that leaders, especially aspiring leaders, should hide weaknesses and mistakes. This view is flawed. It is not only good to admit you are wrong when you are; but also it can also be a powerful tool for leaders—actually increasing legitimacy and, when practiced regularly, can help to build a culture that actually increases solidarity, innovation, openness to change and many other positive features of organizational life.”

The negative impact of being inappropriately apologetic is that we undermine ourselves and our leadership. We make ourselves smaller, reducing the value of our experience and knowledge, and increase the likelihood of making a mistake by not speaking up and stifling our ability to learn from our experience.

The risk in leadership is that by being apologetic ourselves we teach others to do the same. By hiding our own diversity of perspective and experience we create a culture in which people feel like they have to blunt their curiosity, watch what they say, and worry about asking the “career limiting question.”

Team of five sat round a large table with laptops and post it notes.
Unapologetic in your leadership

Being unapologetic - the potential in times of change:

“High-performing companies learn fast and bounce back from adversity stronger than before”

When leading through change, our whole world can become less stable. That is the time when we need to have a heightened attention to risk and opportunity - we need people around us who are confident to speak up and be heard. We need people who are unapologetic.

Another word, closely linked, would be authenticity. Believing in your leaders, trusting your peers, and a being within a company that has prioritised a culture where you can be you, ensures that teams can weather change more quickly, more effectively, and more profitably. Studies show that high-performing companies, especially those in large-scale growth periods, learn fast and bounce back from adversity stronger than before.

Rather than just reactively deal with the changes our organisations face today, we must prepare ourselves and our teams for the change we will face tomorrow.

Change is inevitable. By being unapologetic in words and actions we are to prepare ourselves and our teams better for future changes. Creating an inclusive and diverse space where all opinions can be heard, reduces the likelihood of groupthink, we lead with vision and open problem-solving, and we increase our ability to innovate, test, and change. Unapologetic means inviting everyone to show up and make it count.


How you too can be more unapologetic:

Replace "I'm sorry" with "Thank you"

When you turn up late say thank you for waiting for me instead of I'm sorry. It turns the conversation from being fault-based to gratitude-based. Follow it up with an I appreciate your patience and make everyone feel valued.

Prioritise learning

Speak up when you don’t understand, don’t apologise for not knowing it already. Thank the person for sharing their knowledge and helping you to get a better understanding. The likelihood is that other people around you are not so sure either; so speak up, unapologetically, in the confidence that you’ll be helping someone else too.

Apologise when it really is your fault

Recognise when you find yourself apologising unnecessarily. When did you last apologise for someone else forgetting your birthday? When did you last say sorry for your toes being trodden on? When was the last time you told someone that it was ok, when it really wasn’t? Being able to spot the times that you are actively apologising enables you to choose whether that is a correct use of an apology, or not.

Focus on what you want to achieve

It's ok to want something. It's ok to be driven and focused. When we know what we want, we are much better at articulating and going for that very thing. Accept and acknowledge what it is that you really want to achieve and help others to understand why. Be clear, set boundaries, ask precise questions, and don't apologise for wanting to get us all there as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Take up space

If you need time with the boss, ask clearly, confidently, and with purpose. Don't just pop your head round her door to see if she might have a couple of minutes; be polite, stand straight, say why it is important, and allow her to decide yes or no.

Slow down

Being unapologetic does not always mean talking more. Clear articulation of your point requires a good amount of information and contextual understanding. Paying better attention to those around you and listening to your own thoughts more clearly will add weight to your perspective. You can help yourself to listen more by slowing down, a physical reminder can help. With your mouth closed, place the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth; this will quite literally slow down your ability to respond, allowing you more time to process. You can do this in a meeting, round the dinner table, or on a bus - nobody need know and you'll feel much more in control.


Frustration, anger, and stress leaves us feeling less sure of ourselves and means that things can come out in a way that we did not intend - this potential risk and uncertainty can make us feel the need to apologise more. Take a few seconds to refocus your breathing - thank you Queer Eye for this top tip: use. your breath to calm your whole system down. This will allow you to present as more sure, less emotional, and more of the professional you wish to be. One trick is to press down an index finger on the outside of one nostril, breathe in slowly. Switch nostrils with your finger pressing down gently on the side of your nose and breathe out for longer than you would normally. Now breathe in through this nostril, and switch back again on the way out. Repeat a few times and notice your heart rate slow and thinking become clearer.


“Being unapologetic in my leadership encourages clarity, confidence, and individuality.”

For me, being unapologetic means not needing to cushion your response or have to manage the emotions of other people. It is a mind and body approach that you can try and practice. It's not needed in every situation and sometimes you will prioritise keeping the peace or accepting fault because it can get the job done quicker.

Being unapologetic in my leadership encourages clarity, confidence, and individuality. It helps with problem-solving and has removes internal barriers to change, helping to focus conversation and drive progress. For me, being unapologetic is a tool I can roll out when I want to, I can scale it up and down to suit a situation, and now that I know how it feels I have seen what it can help me achieve for myself and for those around me.


Leadership in Change - Join us

Thank you to Laila Edge for inviting me to be speak and share my experience as part of her Leadership in Change Series.


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