Sorry for being sorry! Over-apologizing and why it's bad > Post > Blog

Sorry for being sorry! Over-apologizing and why it's bad

Career Development / Career Growth, Management and Leadership.   Wednesday, Mar 2, 2022

Amaya G


It wasn’t until my best friend held me by the shoulders, looked me full on in the face and said in all manners of seriousness, ‘Amaya, I think you need to stop apologizing so much’ that I realized how often I’d use the phrase.

I’d apologize when the dog barked, when someone else unmuted their mic on a MS teams call, when someone else misunderstood what I was saying. I’d even apologize for over-apologizing!

Elisabeth Shaw, clinical psychologist, and CEO of Relationships Australia NSW says, ‘Over-apologizing is jumping in with an apology before one might be required, or before it is even clear that the person apologizing should be doing so.’

So why do we do it?

For some, it could be a low self-esteem or social anxiety, for others, it could simply be their perception of self and a tendency to please others. It may well be the case that you may want to genuinely apologise, yet in most situations we find ourselves apologetically conflicted. I fear this has been imposed on us through habitual surroundings, beliefs and victimising oneself.

The language we use expresses the beliefs we hold, our core values and reflects our self-confidence. The words we say and the way we say them can be perceived quite differently by others than how we originally meant them.

Over-apologizing has become an automatic reaction to us today, our best intentions are to be polite and nice, but this makes people think less of you, especially in the corporate world.

Psychotherapist Engel mentioned in her book, ‘The power of an Apology’, that over apologizing comes off like over-complimenting, because whatever your intention is, you may come off as a person with lack of confidence. She also warns, ‘‘It can give a person permission to treat you poorly or a lesser chance to claim fair discussions”

In other moments, when you instantly blurt it out, this makes the other person feel worse and would have to forgive even when they are not ready for forgiveness.

How to break the cycle?

The first step in breaking the cycle is being aware if you have committed a mistake that needs forgiveness. If yes, a blurted out ‘I’m sorry’ is not going to fix the problem anyways. A good rule of thumb is understanding how long of a response time is needed from the other party. For example:

You accidently break your friend’s late mother’s vase which holds sentimental value for her – You know it is a big mistake and although you might blurt out ‘I’m sorry’, you would wait for her response to you, whether it is in anger or in pain, or in sadness or hopefully in forgiveness.

You enter a crowded bathroom and murmur ‘I’m sorry’- You aren’t really waiting to be heard but simply trying to appear nice or polite.

Next, ask yourself the question ‘Why do I apologize so much?’ and get to the root of the problem. Are you trying to be nice? Are you trying to be polite? Do you have confidence in yourself? Is it your version of a conversation starter? Do you feel you are in a weaker or a position of lower status than the others in the room?

Once you can answer that question, you can really get to the root of the problem which must be addressed first and foremost.

Thirdly, come up with alternatives so that when you catch yourself about to blurt out a thoughtless apology you can replace them with better versions.

Alternatives to the mindless ‘sorry’

Sorry: I’m so sorry to keep you waiting! Alternative: Thank you for waiting for me.

Sorry: I am so sorry I am unable to make it because…. (Insert animated excuses) Alternative: Thank you for your invite. However, I cannot make it – but I do hope you would enjoy the day!

Sorry: I am so sorry to be a pain like this! Alternative: Could you please help me?/ Do you have a minute to help me with this?

Sorry: I am so sorry I am not sure! Alternative: I don’t have this information at the moment, but please give me a few minutes I will come back to you.

Sorry: Sorry but its so cold and I can’t take it anymore, can I turn on the heater? Alternative: I am just switching on the heater for a bit as it is pretty chilly in here.

Most companies in Sri Lanka look at talent for their potential to grow with the company, leadership skills and ability to deal with stakeholders. Over apologizing can portray or give a false impression that you are not confident in yourself. And if you are not confident in yourself, why would others place their trust or confidence in you?

The key is, rather than positioning yourself in a ‘weaker’ or ‘negative’ light, you are instead responding with positivity in a way that exudes confidence in yourself.

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