I had been on my semi-annual re-wilding trip, deep in the mountains of northern British Columbia, with zero internet access. It had been a total of 5 days offline –– including the weekend. When I opened my email and started responding, I noticed that I kept apologizing for taking a few days to get back to people. In the clarity of my post-mountain escape, I immediately realized what I was doing; I took my hands off the keyboard and had a moment of pause.
“Why am I apologizing?” “Have I done something wrong?” “Do I owe these people an immediate response?” “Do they expect one of me?” “Have I failed them?”
The answer was a resounding NO!
As I thought about this, I realized I was always apologizing for my response time (even if it was only a day or two) and, moreover, I realized I apologized for just about everything.
Over the next 24 hours or so, I came to the depressing and liberating realization that I was an “apologizing machine.” I guess some of my abundant apologizing can be attributed to a supposed politeness that comes from being Canadian, but as for the rest…where was that coming from?
Was it insecurity, guilt, and/or shame that I wasn’t doing enough that was the underlying cause of my incessant apologies? I realized that the more I apologized for not responding, or for having a different point of view, or if I’d messed up on a project, or if I was running late, or for sharing my opinion, or not wanting to do a specific task, the more I discredited myself and fueled my general feeling of “wrongness.”
We often use the word “sorry” as a catchall word that can become a habit, a way to begin a sentence.
Apologies can be powerful and necessary at times because A) humility may just be the virtue of all virtues; B) they can release pent-up frustration, anger, sadness, and help us move on from a situation that requires said apology; and C) you absolutely should say you’re sorry when the situation calls for it. But, setting aside the nuances of the English language, saying sorry, at its core, implies you did something wrong. Most of us, however, are often not “wrong.” Mistaken, maybe. A mishap here and there, sure! Misguided, most certainly. But wrong? How can one always be so wrong when our lives are filled with all that we do not necessarily know…yet. Or, for the unforeseen, unfortunate, unprecedented and unpredictable circumstance of life that often results in us choking up a “sorry” to whomever.
It became crystal clear to me that the oversaying “sorry” had to be less endearing than problematic to ourselves and those around us. So, during my recent experiences of not apologizing (as much) here are 7 things I’ve learned:
- When you’re asking for, or taking, the floor at work, the classroom, or at the kitchen table, an apology beforehand will make you appear tentative, unsure of yourself, and lessen the impact of the message you’re about to deliver. An “excuse me” is just as polite but doesn’t take away your power! Why are you apologizing for what you want to say?
- Further to that point, if what you’re saying takes a bit longer than you’d expect (or you were slated for) don’t apologize –– just wrap it up and finish strong. An apology can distract from or devalue your closing remarks. Besides, by apologizing you’re assuming your co-workers, family members, attendees or audience are even keeping track of time.
- When you’re learning something new, don’t apologize for not knowing the material. Why should you be “sorry” for not knowing the conjugation of the word in your third Spanish lesson and where does saying “sorry” get you when you apologize for it? You didn’t do anything wrong by “not knowing” and saying sorry certainly doesn’t help you learn the conjugation any faster.
- How about when it IS your fault? Not apologizing doesn’t mean not taking responsibility. So, you won’t be able to make a deadline that you committed to. Is that because you did something wrong? Maybe not. Maybe it’s because you have gone above and beyond and the project you were to deliver will be magnitudes greater because of a few extra days of work. You’re not ignoring the situation and by your acknowledgment that this project will be late, you are displaying empathy. By all accounts, this is positive and proactive news to deliver and an apology will just drag it down!
- Like the boy who cried wolf, if you apologize all the time, for every little thing, it will certainly lessen the impact on a situation that warrants a sincere apology. And, somewhat to this point, it can be annoying when you’re intentionally “trying to be nice” but don’t actually mean it (for instance when you cancel plans for something you just don’t want to do…and the person knows it).
- What about delivering bad news? Should you apologize for firing or not hiring an employee? What about breaking up with a partner? That depends…did you do something wrong or was the candidate not the right fit? Was the relationship just not right for you? An apology doesn’t make the person stronger or provide them with clarity in those situations. In fact, an apology does the opposite. Someone should know exactly why something didn’t work out the way they’d hoped it would.
- Finally, too many apologies can cause others to lose respect for you, and even you for yourself. This is because an apology often shows a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence and it gives permission to people to treat you as such. According to one study, The European Journal of Social Psychology, researchers found that participants who refused to express remorse showed signs of “greater self-esteem, increased feelings of power (or control), and integrity.”
We often use the word “sorry” as a catchall word that can become a habit, a way to begin a sentence. Which again, may very well be the appropriate word for a situation, for instance, “I’m sorry to lean about your bad news.” Even here, however, “sorry” could be replaced with the word “sad.” It’s just about be conscientious of your use of the word and if you’re like me and vomit out regular apologies, instead of getting rid of it entirely, try taking an apology break.
See how you feel and see how others respond to you. My prediction is that not saying sorry as much will positively affect your life!
Thanks for reading,