I’ll admit it! I’m a SERIAL apologizer. In every way, this word permeates my daily life. Bump someone in the hallway? “Sorry!” Need to find a polite way to tell the person in front of you in the coffee line that it’s their turn to order? “Sorry!” Asking for time during maternity leave. — God forbid, but also “Sorry!”
As women we tend to apologize much more often than our male counterparts.
Constant apologizing affects not only how we feel about ourselves, but how others see us. But if you’re someone who throws out “sorrys” like candy on Halloween, that can be a problem. While on the surface this might seem like a polite habit, overusing any word can devalue it—and more importantly, excessive apologizing can make you look guilty when you haven’t done anything wrong.
Here are some tips on when to use the “S” word appropriately without devaluing who you are.
Have you caused someone harm? Use it!
Did you say something rude or hurtful to someone. Did you accidentally snap at your husband cause you’re tired “Say Sorry.”
I also believe in saying sorry if you learn that something you said was unintentionally hurtful. Even if you were joking, if you later learn something you said was hurtful to someone else, it’s a good idea to apologize.
Was there a miscommunication? Nope!
If there was a misunderstanding but you did nothing wrong… No apologies needed.
For instance, if you need to get up during a flight and shuffle past people to get to the bathroom, phrases like “excuse me,” “please,” and “thank you,” are good enough. You don’t need to apologize for having to pee.
Pay Attention To How Often You Apologize
Be aware of how often you say “I’m sorry.” There’s even a Gmail plug in that warns you when you use words such as “just,” “I’m sorry,” “I think,” “Does that make sense?” “I’m no expert,” and “actually”—words or phrases that serve to undermine your authority and discredit your skills and knowledge.
You can’t change anything until you realize how often you’re doing it.
Apologies Are Often Gendered Early On In Our Lives
I remember recently telling my daughter to hurry up and complete her homework. Her automatic response was to say “I’m sorry Mom I’m taking so long.” I then I realized why is she apologizing. She hasn’t hurt me. She’s just taking longer than expected. I automatically corrected her and told her she doesn’t need to apologize. I tried to take it a step further and instructed her to respond next time “Ok mom I’ll hurry up.” END OF STORY!
…And Now Let’s Talk Workplace!
Women tend to apologize for a variety of issues that men in the workplace don’t. I remember when my colleague needed someone to cover his shift he had asked all 42 physicians in the group and I responded “I’m sorry I don’t have coverage for my children that day.” But was I really sorry? Why did I have to apologize for not being able to cover him when he asked 41 other doctors? My schedule is full, and that’s OK.
Ladies hear me out. You don’t need to apologize for speaking your mind. You don’t need to apologize to your boss because you need to go and take care of your kids. Not only have I stopped apologizing for that, I have also stopped explaining that I need to be somewhere because I am a mother. If you pay attention to men’s interactions, they do not explain their absences or their need for re-scheduling. I’ve stopped giving explanations as to why Im so busy and I have to say it’s given me much more credibility in the workplace.
I’m guilty of using SORRY more than I realized. And while I think some softening language is sometimes needed, I’d prefer to sound in control and definitive and have my words matter—rather than sound soft and sweet, careful of not coming across as demanding.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this very important discussion. Comment below!