I’m a chronic apologizer. I say sorry profusely — to co-workers, to strangers in the elevator — even to inanimate objects. (Yes, I’ve found myself apologizing to a chair I’ve bumped into, or the garbage bin I’ve knocked over.) Studies have shown that it’s human nature to use apologies as a defense mechanism when we fear social rejection. Research has also indicated that overdoing our apologies makes us seem more timid than we really are and diminishes what we’re trying to express.
But most of us don’t realize that over-apologizing could actually harm our self-confidence.
“Apologies have become our habitual way of communicating,” Maja Jovanovic, Ph.D., sociology professor at McMaster University and author of Hey Ladies, Stop Apologizing and Other Career Mistakes Women Make, recently shared in a TED Talk in Ontario, Canada. (Jovanovic and other experts believe over-apologizing is especially a problem for women, and Amy Schumer even devoted a comedy sketch to it in 2015.) While apologies can be important and powerful when used in the right moments, Jovanovic says, if used as a conversational buffer, they can make us feel less self-assured.
“If you’re beginning and ending your sentences with ‘I’m sorry,’ don’t be surprised if there’s nothing left of your confidence at the end of the day,” she adds. “You’ve given it away with every needless, useless apology.”
Here are three simple ways to stop your unnecessary apologies in their tracks:
Swap “sorry” for “thank you”
Jovanovic points out that we often turn to an apology when we’re running late, voicing our opinion, or when we feel like an imposition. While there’s a proper time and place for apologizing, she urges us to use “thank you” in the moments where an apology is simply not necessary. Reframing your apologies can make you feel and look more confident in what you’re saying, she says in her TED Talk. “Instead of saying, ‘Sorry for complaining’ or ‘Sorry for venting,’ you could just say, ‘Thank you for listening,’ ‘Thank you for being there’ or ‘Thank you for being my friend.’”
Vocalize your actions instead
We tend to say sorry when we don’t feel like our excuse is valid, but Jovanovic says vocalizing the excuse can allow us, and the person we’re talking to, to hear why the apology is unnecessary in the first place. For example, she says that we often apologize for answering a text or email late, but it’s okay to admit that you were busy with another task. “You don’t have to apologize,” she says. “Say, ‘I was working,’ ‘I was reading,’ ‘I was driving.’”
Make others aware of the habit
Jovanovic says she “collects sorry’s,” and finds it helpful to tell her family members and friends when they’re overdoing their apologies as well. “I’ll do it everywhere. I’ll do it in the parking lot, I’ll do it to total strangers at the grocery store, in line somewhere,” she says —and making others conscious of the habit can help open the conversation to those who are unaware. “One hundred percent of the time when I interrupt another woman and say, ‘Why did you just say ‘sorry’ for that?’” Jovanovic notes, “She’ll say to me, ‘I don’t know.’”
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