Don't apologise for your real life on zoom

MullenLowe London's Fran Griffin on our industry has a lot of insecurity, so why add more?

Last week I apologised for living on a busy road.

It was during an important presentation to a sizeable combination of senior clients and fellow agency folk. As I unmuted myself to speak, I was interrupted by a cacophony of sirens. Oh, the joy of working from home when home is a main road in North West London. I quickly acknowledged the disruption and awkwardly re-muted until the sirens had passed. Maybe the disruption introduced a bit of humanity to the ‘room’.

In hindsight, I wonder if anyone even noticed. But apologising? I’m not sure why I did that. And of course, as we only ever focus on the small negative parts of wholly positive experiences, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I started paying attention to other apologies sparked by this weird video-fuelled reality of ours. Within a day I had added several more to the list. A slow laptop. A clothes horse.

A couple of years ago I watched a TED talk from sociologist Maja Jovanovic about how saying ‘sorry’ can work against us and be detrimental to confidence, for young women in particular, which resonated a lot both for myself and peers.

So, I’ll be honest in saying that at this point I started to question my integrity. But to my surprise, reassurance and somewhat dismay, others - women, men, junior, senior - turned out to be equally contrite.

A toddler walking into a room.
Taking a second to re-open a deck.
A cat being a cat.

We’ve been playing Zoom-bingo for a year now.

Perhaps this is simply the latest addition to the game; ‘can you see my screen’, ‘you’re on mute’, ‘I’ll give it a few minutes for everyone to dial in’, and now, inevitably, ‘sorry’.

I have no intention of shutting down every apology with ‘you don’t need to apologise for that’, or worse, ‘why are you sorry?!?’. I’ve been on the receiving end and to be honest, it just makes everyone a bit uncomfortable. But maybe there’s something in understanding why we’re apologising so much. Why we’re a bit embarrassed about the realities of our lives. Why we feel the need to apologise for doing the best we can. And then maybe turning that understanding into an active effort to enable a less-apologetic, more confident culture?

Our industry already comes with a host of insecurities

We talk a lot about the importance of ‘bringing your whole self to work’. I hope that we can find it in ourselves to expand the definition of ‘whole self’ to include the odd clothes horse. After all, if you’re spending 99% of your time in the same room (as so many of us are), and that room is a shared space, you’re doing really fucking well to be staying sane let alone to be cracking on with an already stressful job. So next time you go to apologise for, let’s be honest, life - take a second. And just know that if your pet or kid or fire alarm make an unexpected appearance in your next Zoom call, it will probably be the highlight of the meeting for someone else. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when my cat exposes herself to my unfortunate teammates.

This article appeared in the January 2021 issue of Marketing Society members-only publication Empower. Learn more about becoming a member of the Society, which includes Empower and many other benefits.