By Johanna Gramacho Narloch
Recently I caught myself apologizing more and more. But most importantly – getting called out on it by my friends and family. I started wondering and observing. Isn’t it a nice trait, to be aware of one’s wrong-doings, and apologize accordingly? Doesn’t it make me a considerate person, someone to get along well? Why would an apology ever be something bad? Why should I stop apologizing? Or were these people right – and there was no reason for me apologizing to them in the first place? But why was I doing it then?
I decided to observe myself, and to call myself out on apologies – differently said – I stop apologizing altogether. I started my little experiment, and guess what, nothing horrible happened. No offended friends, and more importantly, I realized many situations in which I would’ve usually apologized, sometimes even several times – but I held back the urge to and reacted differently.
But why do we apologize so much?
So back to the beginning. Why do we (yes, I am talking about most of us, I am not the only person guilty of over apologizing out there) apologize so much? I started my research on the topic and found some pretty interesting studies. One of them showed that in general women apologize more than men.1 So you might be wondering, are women committing more offences, running around insulting others, acting like total a**holes? As interesting as that would be, it’s not the case. The study showed that the difference between men and women is that men rate their doings differently than women. So in other words – women have a much lower threshold for what they consider offensive thus apologize more often.
So far so good, and over apologizing doesn’t seem like too much of a big problem at the first sight, but if you look at it a bit closer, you realize – you might be undermining your own authority and confidence. Additionally, whenever you apologize and it is not needed, it diminishes the value of a real, good and absolutely needed apology. You might already suspect it – over apologizing stands between you and your own success.
So let’s see, are you guilty of over apologizing?
I challenge you now to ask yourself, did you ever say sorry for one of the following:
1. saying no
3. getting angry about injustice
4. having an opinion
5. feeling an emotion
7. being injured
8. tending to your own needs
9. staying home
10. how you are dressed
11. thinking differently
12. changing your mind
13. putting your health first
14. taking longer than 3 seconds to respond to an email or text
Do these sound familiar to you? Welcome to the club, you might be over doing it and need to stop apologizing!
But maybe it’s just an annoying habit? Is it really that bad?
We all know that a lot of what we do in our daily lives is based on unconscious habits. In this case, apologizing is turning into a habit, adding the word “sorry” into every other sentence – as a filler, or simply because you don’t know what else to say happens automatically – and this might be sending out unwanted signals as in showing fear or insincerity. And as we all know – once you really get used to a habit, it is not easy to get rid of it again. But this habit especially works on undermining your confidence and might be portraying you as weak and indecisive, and can even damage your credibility.
It might show that we think, we can’t get what we want if we are not super nice. It might even signal that we don’t think we are good enough to talk to, good enough to ask for anything, or even good enough to just be.
Are we just trying to be overly accommodating for everyone? Undermining our own needs? Maybe we should start to rethink our communication and learn how to stop apologizing.
So why do we say ‘sorry’ so often? We might be trying to defuse tension, to express regret, to say thanks, we might even be joking or bonding with each other, or else trying to ease the pain caused by others. We even apologize for our failures and our own successes! Isn’t this crazy? Apologizing has turned into such a habit, that most of us don’t even realize it is happening.
This constant flow of over apologizing is exhausting, it drains us and it puts a focus on our so-called “flaws”. But what if we stop apologizing for these things, what if we stopped putting the focus onto these things? What if we stopped using sorry as a reflex? What if we stopped using sorry as a constant request for absolution? Maybe this can be a way of freeing ourselves, a way of creating a new communication style – one that doesn’t diminish us but rather empowers us.
The stereotype – who and how is the classic apologizer?
The classic over apologizer might be a good and considerate person, who just wants everyone to get along. He/She is probably scoring highly on the empathy scale. BUT, yes there is always a but – He/She might also appear to be afraid of the space they occupy and not feel entitled to speak their mind.
You think you might be losing something when you stop apologizing, but let me tell you – you’ll gain it back in personal confidence and self-esteem. You’ll learn to recognize when a true apology is necessary. You’ll get back a feeling for your conversational skills.
Minimalism – not just in our lives, but in our communication too.
Nowadays we talk a lot about minimalizing our lives, eliminating unnecessary things, decluttering our apartments and wardrobes, maybe we should start by decluttering our speech. We fill our conversations with little extra-sentences, trying to say more and more – when in fact sometimes less would be better. Our world is hectic and loud enough already, sometimes brevity speaks volume. So get rid of the unnecessary apologies. It’s exhausting and unnecessary anyway. It is a constant reminder that we are not good enough – when in fact we are.
Alright! So what are the practical steps to stop apologizing?
Start by paying attention for a day – how many times do you apologize? Maybe ask your friend or partner to help you stop apologizing – to call you out on unnecessary apologies.
As a next step check your emails. How often do you apologize? Is it really necessary or just diminishing the actual content of your email? Is it making your email longer than it needs to be? The very fact that Google Chrome has an extension to mark all your unnecessary apologies and little filling words should show us that there is something wrong with the amount of apologies we just smash out like candies day in and day out.
The solution is to find a healthy balance between your own communication style and how others may be perceiving this style. Try to find a combination of what is comfortable for you and the effect of the way you’re speaking depending on the context.
Practically speaking – whenever you fell the need to apologize – pause for a moment and ask yourself if you’ve done anything wrong. If not? Stop apologizing! Another important point is to know what makes you want to apologize – do a little brainstorming and try to find a few things that make you want to apologize and then think of different things to say.
Instead of apologizing if you didn’t get something and need clarification try to phrase your questions more carefully, for example, “Could you please help me understand this better”.
But how do we find this beautiful balance?
Ask yourself – why are you apologizing? How does it make you feel? Do you apologize because you crave approval?
And in the next step – try to apologize less, and observe the effects on yourself and your self-esteem.
Observe your own behavior. This applies not just but especially to workplace situations. How do your apologies come across to others? How do people react? Do they seem to take advantage? Do you maybe need to set stronger boundaries?
So maybe the next time you feel like you should be apologizing, try to offer a solution instead of an apology. The more proactively you address and solve your mistakes, the better your performance is going to be, and the more your environment will value your work.
Instead of showing remorse – try showing gratitude. So instead of saying “I am sorry, I’m late.” try “Thank you for your patience.” And whenever you feel that you absolutely offer an apology – explore other ways and unapologetic directions first, see if the apology is still necessary then. This authenticity is necessary, and it will help you to make your apologies really count.
Are we unconsciously making ourselves small, day by day?
Saying sorry constantly can make you feel inferior to others. Especially women tend to perceive more mistakes in themselves than men. So remember how women also have a lower threshold for what is considered offensive? Sounds like a great combination to end up apologizing too much!
So whenever you think that an apology is needed, try and explore other ways. You will figure that sometimes an apology isn’t as necessary as you thought initially. And you will start to make conscious decisions about apologizing, rather than overusing it.
Is there a gender difference??
Women have been taught by society to take up as little space as possible. This influences the way we speak, so it is important to sharpen our self-awareness. Once again it comes back to being mindful. Mindful of the way we speak, mindful of the way we appear to others.
Deborah Tannen shows in her research, that men, in general, want to maintain a power balance in a conversation while women tend to sympathize. Women tend to use apologies as conversational smoothers, and have a lower threshold for offenses, as mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, over apologizing is not just a female problem.
Break the habit!
Yes, I know – breaking a habit is hard. Breaking a communication habit is even harder. BUT – your communication skills will get better. Restricting your vocabulary makes you consider what you really have to say. It will also make you more aware of other people’s apologies.
In my case, I stopped apologizing and started seeing all these situations in which I would’ve already apologized at least 2-3 times. The other day I was talking to one of my friends about a problem I had, and usually, I would’ve apologized for bothering him with the matter, for taking up his time, for being so whiny, for whatsoever else. But I didn’t. It was hard. I kept on feeling the urge to apologize, but I resisted it, and instead, I thanked him for his time and advice. At the end of the conversation I shared my experiment with him, and he said that he had noticed, but decided not to say anything about it.
I was shocked. How many times must I have been apologizing in our conversations for him to be able to notice that I stopped doing it? How many times do I apologize in other conversations, and how does this portray me to other people? It made me aware of the impact my communication can have. It made me realize how much I was undermining my own worth, by being afraid to take up space. My friend said and I am quoting here: “You would usually end it with a sorry or right smack in the middle of the convo. But carry on, because I’m not allowing it and less is called for.”
So here we are now – I am getting back to incorporating the one or other apology into my vocabulary – with care though and while being considerate of the use of my words. When I stopped apologizing too much, it has made me more aware of my communication and my own worth. And most importantly I realized – we can be kind and loving, without constantly being sorry. Stop saying sorry!
Last but not least, I found a quote by Megan Orcholski, a communication teacher at Concordia College I want to share with you:
“If you are conscious in your choices and have strong thoughtful reasoning for your choices, you should not have to apologize.”Megan Orcholski