Apology Alternatives

By Quinn Drew posted 09-24-2020 14:56

I've been working on apologizing less. For too long, "sorry" has been too ingrained in my vocabulary. I've spent a lot of my life saying things like: 
  • Sorry, I want to speak up here for a minute.
  • Sorry this might not be exactly what you're looking for, but... 
  • Oh? You needed  this sooner - sorry, I didn't know!
  • Sorry, can you repeat that?
  • I'm in another meeting at that time. Sorry about that! 
Sound familiar?
If so, we're not alone. 

There's a long list of reasons why we do this that includes people-pleasing, low self-esteem, perfectionism, feeling uncomfortable, feeling responsible for other people's mistakes, or simply - just a bad habit. Once it's in there, it sticks.

No matter why it's there, over-apologizing has gotta go. Why? Well, how about this:

"Over-apologizing dilutes your apologies when they’re really needed. And over-apologizing can make you look less confident. It can seem as though you’re sorry for everything – for your actions and feelings, for taking up space, for your mere existence." - Sharon Martin

I don't know about you, but I'm not sorry for everything, and I'm certainly not sorry for merely existing. I know that it's ok to take up space, to have opinions and preferences, to stand up for myself and the work I've done. I know that it's ok to feel and show emotions! But knowing it doesn't always mean I'm good at owning it. 

Now seems like a good time to pause and clarify: I'm not suggesting that we swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some situations call for apologies, like hurting someone's feelings, offending someone, or violating boundaries (regardless of whether it was intended to or not). In those cases especially, I want my apology to be understood as genuine and heart-felt. And if I want to be sure that's the case, the rest of them have to be eliminated. I can't use "sorry" as a placeholder because it makes it easy to move on, I have to be better about saying what I mean. 

The Forbes Coaches Council came up with a list of "10 Alternative Approaches to 'I'm Sorry." The list includes these bits of advice, which varies based on the situation you find yourself in:
  • Find Ways to Say 'Thank You' 
  • Respond with Actions, Not Words 
  • Practice Empathy Instead of Giving a Sympathy 'Sorry'
The one that hit me hardest, though: Respond confidently to perceived failure and commit to correcting it.  

When it comes to workplace issues, instead recognize the perceived failure and respond with confidence: "That didn't go as well as planned, but I got this. Let me go to work." Then gather up all the resources and grit required and get the work done. - Mark S. Babbitt

So how can we re-evaluate and quit our habit of over-apologizing? Let's go back to Sharon Martin for a moment.

She advises three steps that are admittedly not super "quick and easy" but can definitely get us back on track: 
  1. Notice what you're thinking, feeling, and saying. 
  2. Question whether an apology is necessary. 
  3. Rephrase. 
In order to make a change (in anything, really) we've got to be aware of what we're currently doing, and hold ourselves accountable to making the change. Find yourself an accountability buddy who will call you out when you mess up, and be sure to hold yourself accountable, too. I found that starting with monitoring the times I was writing "sorry" in emails was the easiest, as I could take the time to adjust my language to what I really needed to say. Eventually I moved that practice into conversations - pausing when I recognize that I'm about to say, "I'm sorry" aloud, and redirecting.

I'm far from perfect, and I still mess it up, but I'm willing to own that I'm a work in progress. 
And I won't even apologize for it.

#apologizing #reflection #learning #whenyouknowbetterdobetter​​​​​



10-07-2020 14:37

This is something that I am 100% guilty of!! I love the idea of an accountability buddy. I definitely need family and friends to listen closely and call me out for unnecessarily apologizing. I feel oddly supported and empowered when they do (even if it is often by yelling, "DON'T APOLOGIZE!"). I'll work on my apologizing and maybe they can work on their tempers?! #notsorry​

10-02-2020 06:47

Thanks, @Mauricio Gonzales​​! When I first started becoming more aware of how much I use it, I was blown away! I agree - why are we apologizing for the weather? Haha! Here's to learning and growing and doing better in the future. :)

10-01-2020 10:42

Oh my gosh.
Preach it, Drew.

Great job here on this topic. You know what? I am a victim of the "I'm sorry" syndrome. Sometimes, I feel the need to apologize for others' actions or even for the weather. I'm a perfectionist (not a good thing), and the words "I'm sorry" are embedded in my vocabulary. Your article is charged with truth and useful information. Loved all you shared. Now I need to do a self-assessment about this area in my life. This is probably the best article I've seen about this topic. I'm going to have to share this post!