Sorry Not Sorry

New Chrome extension encourages women to be more assertive and stop apologising

“I’m sorry to bother you, but…” “I just thought that…” “I’m no expert, but…” If this sounds like your emails, then a new app, Just Not Sorry, may be worth a try.

The software developer, Cyrus, as part of its ‘Female Founders’ initiative, has launched an extension for Google Chrome which highlights words and phrases in emails deemed ‘self-undermining’. The app is primarily aimed at women, and its creator, Tami Reiss, developed the software with the goal of helping them express themselves more confidently. ‘Let’s stop qualifying our message and diminishing our voice’ shouts the app’s description in Chrome’s webstore. Inspired by her new year’s resolution to apologise less and the writings of Tara Mohr, Reiss hopes that her app will help its users overcome self-doubt and express themselves more assertively.

As someone who often finds themselves apologising for asking questions, I wondered if this could be the app for me. Whilst giving it a whirl in Gmail I was pretty surprised by some of the words highlighted. Each ‘undermining’ word is indicated with the red dotted line of a spelling mistake. To me it seemed a little accusatory. I was surprised to see that ‘think’, ‘actually’, and ‘trying’ were all stained with the dotted-red-line of condemnation. Hovering your cursor over each provides an ‘explanation’ of its ‘self-undermining’ properties. Most of these were slightly aggressive self-help quotes: ‘ “Just” shrinks your power. It’s time to say goodbye to the justs. –Tara Sophia Mohr’. Others were frankly bizarre: ‘Do or do not. There is no try. – Yoda’.

I don’t know whether the word ‘trying’ undermines your authority, but I feel that judging your emails by the standards of an eccentric Jedi knight might just be…. a disturbance in the office. Whilst this app is useful for making us more aware of the language we are using, the comments provided had an ironically negative effect on my confidence. The quotes told me I was lacking ‘gravitas’, displaying ‘an overall lack of self-confidence’ and appeared ‘unfit for leadership’. By the time I’d finished my email I despaired of communicating with other humans ever again.

Hyperbole aside, criticising someone in this way is not likely to inspire self-confidence. This becomes even more problematic when we remember the app is aimed at women. This marketing reinforces the moth-eaten dichotomy of masculine=active, feminine=passive. Certainly, our society’s patriarchal history must have caused differences in the way men and women usually communicate. However, this requires sensitive study- not an app which implies there is a ‘right’ way to communicate….which of course is the assertive ‘masculine’ way. Attempting to homogenise professional communications and creating anxiety about our language use is, to me at least, not particularly healthy. Conclusion? I’m sorry, but I just don’t think this app will catch on.    

[Bethany Garner]


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