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When: February 26, 1 p.m. EST (6 p.m. GMT; 11:30 p.m. IST)
Topic: How to Stop Apologizing
About This Week’s Chat
Why is it that sometimes an apology is so difficult to make, and at other times we end up apologizing profusely and at length for things that weren’t our fault?
An apology can be a wonderful thing, so long as it is infrequent and from the heart.
Gary Hopkins. U.S. author
A few years back, I was a guest speaker at an event for professional trainers and facilitators. The audience was predominantly male. I was well prepared, knowledgeable about the topic, and I felt confident as I delivered my speech.
But afterward, a very experienced female delegate greeted me, offered a few pleasantries, then dropped a bombshell on me.
She said, “Do you know how many times you apologized, from the moment you stepped up to the microphone until the moment you left the stage?”
“None?” I replied.
“Nine. Nine times,” she said. “And all of them were unnecessary. You even said sorry when the sound wasn’t clear, and that wasn’t your fault at all.”
Why Do We Keep Apologizing?
I was speechless. It was the first time anyone had ever made me aware of my “sorry habit.” So what was the first word out of my mouth in reply? “Sorry!” We both burst out laughing.
Now that I was aware of this habit, I realized how often I apologized. It felt to me as if I started every other sentence with “sorry,” for no good reason. I didn’t see myself as someone with a meek, apologetic type of personality, so why was I doing it?
I realized that there was an element of it that was socialized into me. In our culture, children had to be seen and not heard. While it didn’t stay that way for boys, it did for girls. As a woman, I felt that I had to apologize for having strong opinions, and for not following societal norms and expectations, such as deciding not to have children.
There was a second element to it: guilt. I felt guilty for being more successful than many of my peers. I didn’t apologize for it explicitly, but I conveyed it through my attitude, and by saying sorry for lots of other things.
I concluded that I used unnecessary apologies as a type of cultural symbol, signalling two things: that I didn’t think too much of myself, and that I recognized the superiority of men.
When Apologizing Is Worthless
Of course, apologies shouldn’t be used that way. However, this incident raised my awareness of how we routinely use apologies, or apology words such as “sorry.”
First and foremost, there are real apologies. Wholeheartedly saying that you’re sorry when you’ve made a mistake or wronged another person is important. It’s a deposit into a relationship account, and there’s no substitute for an apology.
Depending on the situation, an apology on its own isn’t always enough. If your offending behavior doesn’t change, your apology is worthless.
People often use “exemption” apologies when their habitual lack of self-management leads to behavior such as lateness and missed deadlines.
They use sorry as a “get out of jail” card when they’re in the wrong. They’ll start a conversation with an apology in an attempt to exempt themselves from negative consequences. It’s also a way of trying to prevent another person (usually an authority figure) from being angry with them.
Sorry as a Tool of Manipulation
False apologies are tools of manipulation. An example of this is when a seemingly contrite person says they’re sorry for being unfaithful to their partner. Their concern isn’t for the relationship. It’s about how a possible breakup will impact them financially.
Another type of false apology is when the apologist is sarcastic or shifts the blame. “I’m so sorry I raised my voice, but your behavior made me angry,” is a typical example.
False apologies can also be a dramatic attempt to make things seem different from what they really are.
Habitual apologies are the ones you make when you didn’t do anything wrong. You’re saying sorry because you don’t want to anger someone else, you’re not used to asserting your boundaries, or you’re not sure how the other person will receive your position/opinion. The word sorry is then used as a soft entry.
How to Stop Apologizing
I’m sorry that it took me so long to explain my opinion about apologies, but… No! Truth be told, I’m not sorry at all, and I hope you’ll join our #MTtalk Twitter chat on Friday to discuss how to stop apologizing unnecessarily.
In our poll this week, we wanted to know your perspective on saying sorry all the time. More than half of respondents said it’s not helpful at all, while almost 15 percent said it’s a way of showing respect. To see all the options and results, click here.
We’d love you to participate in the chat, and the following questions may spark some thoughts in preparation for it:
- Failing to apologize is a big mistake, but so is over-apologizing. How can you tell when/when not to apologize?
- In which situations do you tend to apologize unnecessarily?
- Why do we over-apologize?
- Culture and gender influence how much people apologize. True or false?
- How can you stop apologizing unnecessarily?
- When is an apology simply not enough?
- When does apologizing become manipulative or dishonest?
We’ve compiled a list of resources to help you to prepare for the chat. Some may be available in full only to members of the Mind Tools Club.
How to Apologize
How to Be Assertive
Empathy at Work
Managing Your Boundaries
Good Manners in the Office
How to Join Our #MTtalk
Follow us on Twitter to make sure that you don’t miss any of the action this Friday! We’ll be tweeting out 10 questions during our hour-long chat. To participate in the chat, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “Latest” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. You can join the chat by using the hashtag #MTtalk in your responses.