How many times have you wondered if you sounded too “bossy” or “threatening” in an email? How many times have you peppered your words with qualifiers to undercut any negative presumptions? And how many times have you found yourself saying sorry when a sorry wasn’t even necessary?
Maybe you don’t even realize it. Maybe you do.
Chronically apologizing might seem polite, respectful, and even accommodating. However, it paints you as a person with low confidence, and to some, even as a person to be taken advantage of.
It’s also an easy cop-out as it divests you of the responsibility to fully flesh out and state what you truly mean. This could either be in an attempt to quickly close the matter at hand or use the apology as a way to diffuse a situation, effectively taking on the role of peacemaker that women are often expected to uphold, even at personal cost.
All in all, it minimizes you.
Here are five things to keep in mind when such situations arise:
1. Turn your “sorry” into “thank you”
Anytime we’re late or feel we’ve overstepped, overshared, or made a mistake, our first instinct is to apologize for the “transgression”. This is undermining yourself.
Instead, give thanks: Thank you for waiting for me. For listening to me. For understanding. For pointing out my error.
Tbh, we’re usually grateful rather than guilty in such situations so a simple thanks not only keeps the playing fields even but makes the receiver’s actions feel acknowledged as well.
2. Actions speak louder than words
Let’s say you messed up at work. Or you dropped the ball on a group project in school, or you just fucked up personally. It happens and, by all means, it might warrant an apology if you’ve negatively impacted someone else.
However, what’s also important is acknowledging the error and then fixing it.
“That didn’t go as planned but I’l do X and it’ll be taken care of.” And then you do just that because actions carry more water than words at times.
3. Asking for someone’s time doesn’t require an apology
“Sorry, could I have a minute?” is used when a person might be interrupting and feels the need to apologize for it. When in fact, it’s just part of human interaction. The same goes for when you’re participating in a group discussion. It’s a group discussion so just go for it and say your piece.
Trust me, no one will care. Flip the situation and ask yourself if you expect a sorry when someone comes knocking at your door for a quick chat, or adds to a conversation during a meeting.
4. Having a different opinion doesn’t mean you should be sorry
Building off of the previous point, I’ve seen sorry being dropped quite a lot when someone interjects with a different opinion – “I’m sorry but I don’t agree.”
It’s a way of softening the blow. However, having a different take on a topic isn’t wrong so why apologize for it? It colors whatever you say next as being “incorrect”.
Instead say “I don’t agree” or “I have a different take on X.” If the other person reacts defensively, that’s on them because there’s no reason disagreements should escalate to arguments.
5. Express empathy, not sympathy
Sorry has also become a shorthand for expressing sympathy. When a someone shares something frustrating or terrible that happened to them, it’s usually met with an “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
Compassion is great but apologizing for random instances that have nothing to do with you and are out of your control does nothing to appease however shitty the other person might be feeling.
Instead, acknowledge their feelings – “It’s frustrating to be in X situation. How can I help?”
You are just as deserving as anyone when it comes to taking up space. To share your thoughts and opinions. To be you. You don’t need to ask for permission and, in no way, does doing any of this make you cold, mean, bossy, bitchy, or any other negative superlative.
That being said, there are times when saying sorry is a necessity, even within the workplace. Use it when you’ve personally or emotionally hurt someone. Saying sorry shows humility but over-using it strips it of its sincerity and can be seen as excuse-making.
If you’re truly looking to break this habit, start by paying attention to the situations you find yourself apologizing in. Did it warrant an apology? Be mindful. The next time you find your lips forming the word “sorry”, pause and ask yourself the reason. Is it something arbitrary? Filling the silence? Can you find a different way to acknowledge it?
In doing so, not only will your self-confidence grow but so will your ability to better express yourself.