There have been far too many occasions lately where I’ve found myself apologising – actually saying “I’m sorry” – for things that are most definitely not my fault. Humans have become addicted to those two little words, haphazardly peppering conversations with the phrase, and finding a way to use it even when there’s literally nothing to be ‘sorry’ about. And sadly, on average women say they’re sorry more times in their lives than men.
The best visual explanation of this phenomenon comes from comedian Amy Schumer’s show Inside Amy Schumer. The skit takes place at a Females in Innovation panel. As each woman is introduced, and their various achievements and titles are noted, the ‘sorry fest’ begins. Amy apologises for her microphone crackling, a panel member apologises for interrupting the host to correct him, and another apologises for simply clearing her throat. Check it out here.
So, why do we feel the need to apologise ALL the time? A 2010 study, published in Psychological Science, examined how men and women apologise differently. Participants kept a 12-day diary documenting when they apologised, did something they think required an apology, and how often they thought others owed them an apology.
The study found that while both genders apologised most of the time they thought their actions were offensive, women reported committing more offenses, and they were more likely to report being victims of wrongdoing. The study suggested that “men apologise less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold of what constitutes offensive behaviour.”
Clearly, we’re dropping the sorry bomb way too often. But why is it so bad? A little sorry never heard nobody, right? Well, according to psychotherapist Beverly Engel’s book The Power of an Apology, over-apologising is like over-complimenting – it sends a message that you lack confidence and are ineffectual. “It can give a certain kind of person permission to treat you poorly, or even abuse you,” Engel writes.
Saying “sorry” all the time can also cause the other person to “feel worse, or that they have to forgive…before they are ready,” according to a study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology. Another case against over-apologising is that it can actually make you feel like crap. A study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found that participants who refused to express remorse showed signs of “greater self-esteem, increased feelings of power (or control) and integrity.”
Career coach and former marriage and family therapist Kathy Caprino tells Forbes it’s not rocket science. “It’s simple – don’t apologise when you’re not sorry for what you’re saying or doing.”
“Get in the habit of being a bit more direct and asserting what you know and what you want, rather than being acquiescing and overly-accommodating,” she writes. If taking a minute to pick another word means maintaining your success, control, confidence and happiness, I think it’s well worth the time.
Oh, and if you’re really stuck you can always download the ‘Just Not Sorry’ plug-in for Google Chrome which warns you when you write emails using words which undermine your message.