Growing up, we’re taught to say we’re sorry when we hurt someone, or say something unkind. Possibly our very first memories of apologizing were with our siblings. I remember my Mom chiding me, “Now Delia, say sorry to your sister for pulling her hair.” “Sorry…,” I remember was my begrudging reply.
Yet, the apologies seem to have gone too far. We apologize for things that aren’t our fault. If we feel hurt or sick enough that we can’t go to school or we can’t complete a task, we apologize. We say sorry for speaking our minds, for speaking too loudly, for merely being in the room. We apologize for the actions of others.
This is a real problem that has consequences both in the classroom and the boardroom, according to Melody Wilding, a LMSW and Forbes Contributor. Over-apologizing can lead to feelings of “insecurity and self-doubt,” “insincerity,” “powerlessness,” “dependency on reassurance,” and “compromising your professional values.” This can be a real blow in your academic and professional career. Even if we really don’t identify as those things, in over apologizing, we come across to others as being that way. So what can we do to stop it?
A solution to over-apologizing is to think before apologizing. Before the words “I’m sorry” come out of your mouth, do a simple gut check. Is an apology really warranted? For example, if you bump into someone, an apology is still warranted. The difference is if they bump into you, you shouldn’t apologize, it wasn’t your fault. You apologize when it’s necessary, and if it’s not, reword what you want to say sans apology.
For example, let’s say you promised to help your friend study for a math test after school, but at the last minute you remember you have an impromptu practice that was just scheduled that day. You can say to your friend:
“I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to help you study tonight. I found out I have to go to practice today.”
It’s a nice thing to say to your friend to communicate your regrets, right? However, it’s better communication to say:
“I really want to help you study tonight, but I just found out I have practice. Do you think we can study tomorrow before school?”
The second response works because you’ve communicated you really want to help your friend study and aren’t canceling on purpose. You only just found out today and you proactively suggest another time. It shows you care and want to make it work for both you and your friend.
In conclusion, it’s important to accept accountability for our actions and apologize when necessary. It’s a fundamental social skill. It’s only when we over apologize for our needs or for things that are out of our control that it’s a problem. It will make you a stronger communicator and give you a foundation of confidence that will serve you well both at school and later, on the job.