Okay, listen up. I’m here to talk about apologizing.
I’m sure a lot of you have heard this before, but we all need a reminder: stop apologizing when you don’t need to. A lot of people, women especially, find themselves trapped in this toxic habit of apologizing for literally anything. If you get the wrong food and send it back, you apologize. If you disagree with someone and (respectfully) tell them so, you apologize. Someone accidentally bumps into you or steps on your foot? You apologize. See the problem?
I’ve struggled with this for as long as I can remember. I’m a perennial people-pleaser and I have a nasty habit of apologizing for a plethora of reasons that do not legitimately require an apology. Fortunately, my mom has always tried to teach me that I shouldn’t apologize if I am not actually sorry, so it is something that I am aware of and actively try to fix.
But, you might ask, why shouldn’t I apologize? Isn’t it just being polite?
No. It’s not. It may seem harmless, but your constant apologies make you look weak and invite people to take advantage of you, even if it is subconsciously. If you apologize for something that isn’t your fault or doesn’t merit an apology, the other person might take it to heart and believe that they actually were owed an apology. Beyond that, ingenuine apologies make your genuine apologies a lot less meaningful. When someone constantly apologizes for every little thing they do, the apology that comes when they’ve actually done something that requires an apology (which we all do!) holds a lot less weight.
Women especially, I find, struggle with being overly apologetic. I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. An article for inc.com explains that “statistics on Americans are hard to find, but the BBC reports British people say it at least eight times a day, and some say it as often as 20 times a day. And, informal research supports what many people have observed: Women say ‘sorry’ much more often than men do.” It is clear that this is a wide-reaching problem for many of us.
So, how are we supposed to stop apologizing for everything when it seems hardwired into the brains of so many of us? The first step is to be conscious of how often you say “sorry.” If you pay more attention, you might realize that you extend a lot more apologies than you need to.
After you figure out whether you are apologizing excessively, it is important to start consciously deciding when an apology is merited and where you can swap it out. Ask yourself: “Did I actually do something wrong?” If yes, you should offer a sincere and well-worded apology. And, for the places where you didn’t, start figuring out how to replace those phrases.
I became really aware that I apologized a lot over email: to professors, employers, peers, you name it. To take action, I started swapping out all of the “I’m sorry this is so complicated!” or “I’m so sorry that this took so long!” messages with “Thank you so much for your time” and “I truly appreciate your understanding and patience.” A good rule of thumb, for me at least, has been to switch a lot of those “sorry” statements to expressions of gratitude. You have to figure out what works for you, of course, but I find that having that general rule helps me in a lot of different situations, not just virtually.
It is harder to correct your verbal unnecessary apologies because for a lot of us, it’s a natural defensive reflex. In person, I struggle to remember not to just instinctively say “sorry!” any time I feel that my existence has been an inconvenience in any way. It’s important, though, to work on being aware of your apologies and finding ways to avoid or replace them. If you have to move around someone in a busy place, for example, try saying “Excuse me! Thank you!” instead of my go-to, “So sorry, I just have to get around you! Excuse me!” If you disagree with a colleague and want to express it, you don’t need to apologize; you can politely explain that you aren’t on the same page without apologizing for having your own opinion. Even though it’s hard, it makes you look stronger, more confident and it makes you more effective.
You can help the people in your life correct this, too! Do it gently, of course, but if you notice your mom or your sister or your friend (or anyone!) apologizing for something they don’t need to, just tell them! I try to say something along the lines of “don’t be sorry!” or “you don’t need to apologize!” It’s a good reminder that we all need to hear once in a while.
So, to sum it up, I want you all to go out into your days and just think about how often you apologize, then take action if you need to. Once you’re aware of it, it’s not that hard to realize when your apologies are forcing you to take steps backwards.
If you’re interested, this TEDx talk goes into depth specifically about the pattern of women over-apologizing and how to fix it. I found it really interesting and I think it’s definitely worth your time!
Sorry for going on for so…Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope you take them into your life and use them to find some bonus confidence. You deserve it!