My life will not be an apology. It will be a statement." -Andy Andrews
Anyone who has known me for a while knows I am a recovering over-apologizer.
“I’m sorry” used to come out of my mouth so often, it was the cause of one of the few fights I remember having as a kid with my childhood best friend. I remember crafting the longest note (remember those?) about how I was sorry for saying “I’m sorry” too often.
I recently had an apology relapse and found myself in an “I’m sorry” downward spiral.
It wasn’t until afterwards, when I was out of my apologetic haze and had some distance, that I realized a few things.
For starters, my incessant apologizing had the opposite effect I intended. While I thought I was being nice and caring, I was, in fact, indirectly asking the other person in the conversation to take care of me and my feelings.
By repeatedly saying "I'm sorry" in our conversation the flow was shifted and directed onto me.
Yuck. Hello ego.
I also noticed what an insecure place I was operating from...a, “please, please like and approve of me” place.
Sure, sometimes we all have good reason to apologize and should do so. Sometimes we all fuck up. But, that's not what I'm talking about here.
In my case, and in the case of many other women (I'm sorry, but the stats say women apologize more than men), the majority of our sorries are unwarranted.
They are instead a breakdown of our communication and esteem. They scream I’m not good enough and, my voice shouldn’t be heard. They are meek-makers.
(Watch Amy Schumer's painfully, funny take on it here.)
Saying "I’m sorry" isn’t the only way we do this.
In Tara Mohr’s brilliant book, Playing Big, she outlines a few other phrases we use to qualify our speech: "Just..."," I’m no expert in this, but...", "I just think...", "This is just my opinion...", "Does that make sense?"
Most women are unconsciously using speech habits to soften our communications, to try to ensure we don't get labeled - as women so often do - as bitchy, aggressive, or abrasive." Read an interview with Tara Mohr on the subject here.
There are myriad other reasons we use these phrases.
Some of us were taught at a young age that “I’m sorry” diffuses tension, while others are afraid of being wrong. We want to be liked. Many of us were taught to be “nice." We want to fit in. Some of us don’t want to come across as a know-it-all, and others don’t like conflict and want to hear that everything is ok.
Saying “I’m sorry” or any other qualifier has become the equivalent of fishing for compliments; it is an indirect ask for approval, an indirect ask to hear “everything’s ok.”
As LinkedIn influencer Ellen Petry Leanse puts it:
I am all about respectful communication. Yet I began to notice that just wasn't about being polite: It was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”
Read more from Ellen Petry Leanse on “just” here.
So, we know WHY we qualify the heck out of our speech, but does it really matter? What's the big deal? What's wrong with wanting to be nice?
7 reasons to stop apologizing (and using qualifiers) now:
1. Refusing to apologize makes you feel better and feel empowered. In a recent study on the effects of apology, researcher Tyler G. Okimoto noted,
We do find that apologies do make apologizers feel better, but the interesting thing is that refusals to apologize also make people feel better, and, in fact, in some cases it makes them feel better than an apology would have. When you refuse to apologize, it actually makes you feel more empowered. That power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth." Read more here.
2. It makes us more effective communicators. You will be able to deliver a stronger message without confusing qualifiers getting in the way.
3. You’ll sound like more of an expert. Clearly stating what you have to say shows confidence and authority.
4. Qualifiers send a message to our subconscious that we are inferior, weak, don't have good ideas, shouldn't speak up, or need to apologize. Since our brains already have a negativity bias, this is no bueno.
5. Using "I'm sorry" when it isn't needed breaks down communication. It puts you in a state of victimhood and asks the other person to take care of you.
6. Overusing "I'm sorry" weakens its meaning. When there is a time you actually need to apologize, it won't have the same effect (just ask my childhood best friend).
7. You'll get more of what you want. Your requests will be answered faster and more positively.
Want to cut down on qualifying speech with me?
This isn't about changing your speech habits overnight. Small changes lead to new habits. Start by paying attention and noticing when apologies and qualifying phrases pop up.
Awareness is key.
I find checking my emails and text messages is an easy place to start. If you need a little help, Google created an app to catch you in the act. Most of the time simply omitting the phrase is all it takes.
The final step is finding replacement phrases for those times when cutting it out isn't enough. I've found "thank you" is often a great substitute for "I'm sorry"(and you get a gratitude bonus).
Does that make sense ;)?
I'd love to hear your thoughts! What are some replacement phrases you use? Comment below or join me on Facebook.