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Setting Boundaries – Don’t Apologize for Yourself

I’m a big fan of taking responsibility and personal accountability. I think being accountable is easier than passing the buck. When I’m accountable, I have more power and control. When someone else is accountable, I have neither. But there’s a difference between being accountable and apologizing for yourself.

Last week I vowed to stop saying, “I’m sorry.” And yet, the next words out of my mouth were apologetic.  Apologizing for oneself is so natural, it’s pervasive, aka, a hard habit to break.

Below are a few strategies for being accountable but not apologetic:

  1. Establish clear priorities and boundaries. Having clearly established boundaries makes decision making easy.
  2. Only commit to things you know you will do. For personal situations, only commit to things you genuinely want to do.
  3. Tell the truth. If you don’t plan to do something, say so, without apology. “Thank you but no” has a lot of power.
  4. Know your limits and what you need to be healthy and functioning at an optimum level. If you need eight hours of sleep, structure your life to get it. If you need weekends focused on your family, do that.  Taking care of yourself enables you to take care of others.
  5. Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize something you agreed to isn’t feasible or in your best interest, renegotiate versus suffer through it. Or, keep your commitment, but don’t agree again the next time a similar opportunity or request comes around.
  6. Be careful where you invest your energy. I love my family and friends, and they will never get a printed party invitation or holiday card from me. I want to do both; I really do. But just thinking about collecting addresses puts me over the edge.
  7. Give yourself a break. You’re doing the best you can. You’re a human like everyone else. We’re all doing the best we can.

Being accountable isn’t being perfect, it’s being human. Be yourself. Take care of yourself. And do your best, unapologetically.



Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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3 Responses to “Setting Boundaries – Don’t Apologize for Yourself”

  1. MH says:

    Super timely- I’ve been thinking about this lately. I don’t find myself to be a super apologetic person but I’ve noticed myself using these words more often lately. A good apology is sometimes warranted but your tips are spot on! I shared with my team. Thanks for providing such valuable content! I’ve seen you in person twice and I hope I get the opportunity again in the future. Always great!

  2. Sandy says:

    This hit the nail on the head. Yes, I can be accountable, but it feels like an apology is needed when it creates work for others when everyone has so much on their plate. Yes, it’s a habit for some, but it almost feels needed in that we want others to know it wasn’t intentional or unavoidable. Or maybe it was avoidable. But when the responsibility or accountability falls on us, it seems like the right thing to do. Habit, for some. . But I don’t say it if I don’t mean it. I know sometimes I here “I’m sorry” when it clearly was no need for that person to apologize. Thanks for letting me sort this out.

  3. Sandy says:

    Thanks for your great advice. This is something I personally need to hear more often. I am quick to apologize even when I had no responsibility for the end result – and it’s something I continue to work on daily.

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