Does any of this sound familiar to you? “I’m sorry, where is the shoe department?”. I’m sorry, can I ask you a question?”. “I’m sorry, do you have a moment to discuss this?”. “I’m sorry” you bumped into me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Most of us women can relate to over apologizing. I am guilty of saying all of the above and then some. In fact, I am so fluent in apologease, I most recently apologized for having an opinion. “I’m sorry, but that is my opinion.”
Research has shown that women apologize more than men because our threshold for what we think is offensive is generally lower.
Researchers analyzed the number of self-reported offenses and apologies made by 66 subjects over a 12-day period. And yes, they confirmed women consistently apologized more times than men did. But they also found that women report more offenses than men. So the issue is not female over-apology. Instead, there may be a gender difference in what is considered offensive in the first place.
In other words, women may find it more offensive to “interrupt” a store employee or a co-worker to ask a question, where men do not. Over apologizing is also another way to avoid conflict or to keep the peace.
In the book Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work by Professor Deborah Tannen, Professor Tannen explains how women end up saying “I’m sorry” even when the situation doesn’t require it. She further writes this kind of sorry operates as a “conversational smoother.” In this situation it is not about accepting blame, but rather conveying, “I’m sorry that happened” to you.
I was riding the train into the city once and a man fell asleep on my shoulder. I very gently tried to lean him toward the window. He fell back onto my shoulder and started drooling down my shirt. Once again, I very gently leaned him away from me. He awoke and I promptly apologized for moving him. He fell back asleep on my shoulder. In hindsight my apology was a way to avoid conflict.
Over apologizing can also corrode your self image and have negative side effects on your career. It can have the appearance of lack of confidence, detract from your message, make you feel powerless and appear powerless.
What are some of the things you can say instead of I’m sorry? Try one of these on for size. Think about adding “I’m sure you understand” to the end of your comment. I have found it takes a little practice yet feels fantastic when you utter the words.
- Excuse me, can you tell me where the _____ is?
- Why are we doing it like this instead of like ______
- That is my opinion.
- I can’t make it tonight. I’m sure you understand.
- I would love to help but my schedule is too full. I’m sure you understand.
- I haven’t been able to get to my email. I’m sure you understand.
- Would you be able to meet earlier? I’m sure you understand.
- Would you take your head off my shoulder. I’m sure you understand.
Delete the apology and come forth with your statement. We could stand to be a little more bold with our words. Maybe even a more “offensive” sometimes.