Author Topic: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?  (Read 5883 times)

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BeagleMommy

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Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« on: January 31, 2013, 12:00:01 PM »
One of my professors, who I'll call Deb, apologizes for everything.  She is a very accomplished woman (she holds two masters degrees and a Ph.D.) and her students love her classes.  However, some of her coworkers laugh behind her back because of her necessity to apologize.  This conversation happened yesterday, between me and her.

Deb:  I'm sorry to disturb you, BeagleMommy.  Would you be able to make 100 copies of this?
Me:  You're not disturbing me.  I'll have to send it to the print shop to have that many copies made.  When do you need them?
Deb:  I'm sorry.  Do I have to fill out the form?
Me:  No, I have the form here.  I'll fill it out.  Do you need it single sided or double sided?
Deb:  I'm sorry.  Double sided.
Me:  No problem.  Do you want them stapled or clipped?
Deb:  I'm sorry.  Stapled, please.
Me:  Not a problem.  When do you need them?
Deb:  I'm sorry.  Is Friday, okay?
Me:  Sure, that's doable.  I'll take it over in a few minutes.
Deb:  Thanks.  I'm sorry I had to ask.
Me:   :-\

I was always told that, in business, you shouldn't apologize for asking for something.  That it makes you sound disingenous and ineffectual.  I know people think this of Deb.  Is there a polite way to tell her how this sounds?  She's not my supervisor; she's one of the professor I support as a secretary.

Hmmmmm

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2013, 12:26:24 PM »
It sounds like it's a bad habit she has gotten into and may not even realize it. Would you be willing to draw her attention to it next time? 

Deb:  I'm sorry, but can you make these copies?
You: No need to apoligize, it's my job and what I get paid for.

Or you could go even more direct route.  Go to her office and say you'd like to mention something to her.  "Deb, when you ask me to do things, you consistently start off my apologizing. It makes me a little uncomfortable because apologizing means you have done or are doing something you shouldn't. What your asking me to do is my job and completely appropriate."  And of course her response is going to be "I'm sorry" which you are then free to laugh with her about.  And hopefully she'll them become more aware of this habit.

oopsie

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2013, 12:35:56 PM »

Deb:  I'm sorry to disturb you, BeagleMommy.  Would you be able to make 100 copies of this?
Me:  You're not disturbing me.  I'll have to send it to the print shop to have that many copies made.  When do you need them?
Deb:  I'm sorry.   Do I have to fill out the form?
Me:  No, I have the form here.  I'll fill it out.  Do you need it single sided or double sided?
Deb: I'm sorry.  Double sided.
Me:  No problem.  Do you want them stapled or clipped?
Deb:  I'm sorry.  Stapled, please.
Me:  Not a problem.  When do you need them?
Deb:  I'm sorry.   Is Friday, okay?
Me:  Sure, that's doable.  I'll take it over in a few minutes.
Deb:  Thanks.  I'm sorry I had to ask.
Me:   :-\


It sounds like a nervous tic or something...?

ScubaGirl

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2013, 12:40:03 PM »
Maybe pause each time and then ask, "for what?"  This may bring the frequency to her attention.

My DH sometimes throws in "you know" excessively.  I just don't think he is aware of the frequency.

MrTango

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2013, 12:44:08 PM »

Deb:  I'm sorry to disturb you, BeagleMommy.  Would you be able to make 100 copies of this?
Me:  You're not disturbing me.  I'll have to send it to the print shop to have that many copies made.  When do you need them?
Deb:  I'm sorry.   Do I have to fill out the form?
Me:  No, I have the form here.  I'll fill it out.  Do you need it single sided or double sided?
Deb: I'm sorry.  Double sided.
Me:  No problem.  Do you want them stapled or clipped?
Deb:  I'm sorry.  Stapled, please.
Me:  Not a problem.  When do you need them?
Deb:  I'm sorry.   Is Friday, okay?
Me:  Sure, that's doable.  I'll take it over in a few minutes.
Deb:  Thanks.  I'm sorry I had to ask.
Me:   :-\


It sounds like a nervous tic or something...?

That's what I was thinking as well.

Years ago, I had a tendancy to say "um" at the start of an answer if I have to think about my response.  I didn't realize it until my boss pointed it out.

Tabby Uprising

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2013, 01:04:32 PM »
I don't think I'd say anything.  Like you said, she's got 2 master's degrees, a PhD and she's gainfully employed as a professor and well loved by her students.  Her apology quirk hasn't slowed her down yet!  A few colleagues may laugh about it behind her back, but that doesn't mean they actively dislike her or think she's ineffective. 

I do think it's okay to use the tactic recommended by another poster of saying "for what?" or "you don't need to apologize" when she goes into sorry-mode.

DavidH

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2013, 01:14:19 PM »
If she's well established, I wouldn't say anything, or at most say, no need to apologize, it's what I'm here for or something along those lines.

If she's relatively new, it might be helpful of you to mention it to her on the side in her office, along the lines of there's no need to apologize for asking me to do something, that's my job.  As one makes the transition from grad student to a job, you go quickly from being the one who is asked to do things to having much more seniority.  There isn't much in school that prepares you for this, so it can be difficult to make the mental transition sometimes. 

In my first job, I was asked to develop a presentation for a meeting.  I was very reluctant to reuse slides from someone else since it felt like plagiarism or copying until my boss said that now reusing a slide is called efficient and they are all the company's slides, not an individuals.

AngelicGamer

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2013, 03:02:51 PM »
Maybe pause each time and then ask, "for what?"  This may bring the frequency to her attention.

My DH sometimes throws in "you know" excessively.  I just don't think he is aware of the frequency.

The bolded - ScubaGirl is wise.  This is how I was broken of my habit of saying "sorry".  It made me stop and think what I was doing.  Yes, I still slide back into saying it from time to time for no good reason, but my friends and family go "for what?" and we all laugh. 




"Life's tough, huh?  And then you die." ~ Buck, the Magnificent Seven.

CrazyDaffodilLady

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2013, 03:08:43 PM »
I had a friend who was a compulsive apologizer, which drove me nuts.  I finally did point it out to her gently, but it didn't help.  Eventually, whenever she apologized, I belted out the Brenda Lee I'm Sorry song.  That worked.

Link to song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGLR25EJtfE

You probably can't do that at work, so I suggest the ehell-approved ploy of saying the exact same thing every time she apologizes . . . something just a bit OTT, like "Oh my goodness, why are you sorry?"
It takes two people to play tug of war. If you don't want to play, don't pick up the rope.

oceanus

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2013, 10:29:57 PM »
Frown, mild smile, then "What are you sorry for?"
Her reply, then:
"It's my job."

AnnaJ

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2013, 01:43:04 AM »
I don't think I'd say anything.  Like you said, she's got 2 master's degrees, a PhD and she's gainfully employed as a professor and well loved by her students.  Her apology quirk hasn't slowed her down yet!  A few colleagues may laugh about it behind her back, but that doesn't mean they actively dislike her or think she's ineffective. 

I do think it's okay to use the tactic recommended by another poster of saying "for what?" or "you don't need to apologize" when she goes into sorry-mode.

This ^^^  She's obviously not ineffectual - ineffectual people do not get three advanced degrees and keep a professorship.  Contrary to popular belief, an uncertain demeanor can be useful in many positions and this is one.  If she enjoys her job (sounds like it given her students' affection) and has no intention of trying to get into administration, she may have either consciously or unconsciously developed habits that endear her to the most important people in her job...which is a pretty savvy thing to do. 

NyaChan

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2013, 08:27:05 AM »
I will be honest and admit that I do this with certain people.  For example, the secretary at my pro bono place is much older than most of us students, and has worked there longer than I've been alive.  Is it her job to go make me a copy or bring me a pen or refill the tea bag drawer? Yes, but I apologize so that she doesn't feel like some kid can just walk in and demand she get up from her desk and go do their bidding.  Could I do that? Yes, and some other students do, but she likes me better :)

oceanus

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #12 on: February 01, 2013, 10:28:06 AM »
But how is nicely asking someone to do tasks which are part of their job "demanding them to do one's bidding"?  ???  Why is an apology (or in this case multiple apologies) necessary?

I also don't see where age is a factor.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2013, 10:39:55 AM by oceanus »

MrTango

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2013, 11:16:34 AM »
I agree with Oceanus.

A manager/supervisor/employer should not apologize for asking an employee to do a routine part of their job.  Asking politely (please) and acknowledging the completion of the job (thank you) are, of course, important.

I can see a situation where an employee is given a task that is unusual or of much larger scope than usual, where an apology makes sense.  For example, I had a job where I was responsible for pulling client files for use and putting them away after we were done using them.  That was usually 15-20 per day, so not a big deal.  One day, I came in to work and my manager told me that she needed about 500 files pulled that day for an audit.  She apologized for the fact that I'd be spending my entire day in the stacks.

LadyL

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Re: Is There a Polite Way to Tell Her She Sounds Ineffectual?
« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2013, 11:37:51 AM »
As someone in academia, I will say that getting an advanced degree does not necessitate having the greatest social or professional skills. Since the OP feels uncomfortable and awkward interacting with this professor and others are gossiping about her, the behavior is having professional consequences. That can lead, down the line, to having issues getting promotions or tenure. I think it would be a kindness to point out this habit, gently. I don't think this sort of thing is "endearing" as someone suggested either - I don't know anyone who likes it when others act this meek and subservient.