Why “Sorry” is a Convenient Excuse to Dismiss You

There has been a whole lot written about the fact that women apologize too much. I agree with that theory, but less because of the gender-charged “submissive” argument and more because when you apologize, you give people the opportunity to dismiss you.


Let’s start with this general logic. If you don’t know someone, chances are you’d like to make the best impression possible. You are either introduced via a friend or colleague, or make a cold introduction for yourself. There are two roads you can take in this situation: 1) you can be apologetic for taking up their time, or 2) you can assume that you are worthy of their time because the ask you’re making is within the realm of possibility. If you take road 1, you are opening up the door for someone to be irritated with you, even if you have the most reasonable ask. If you take road 2, you’re doing yourself a great favor by framing an argument intelligently and inviting a positive response. You may believe framing an ask in an apology is polite, but it makes you look weaker in the eyes of the recipient.

People With Whom You Disagree

Many people assume that if you’re going to disagree with someone, you are beginning from a point of conflict. Unless it’s a political or religious disagreement (in which case there is usually no turning a person), I like to believe that most people will listen to reason if their viewpoint is properly acknowledged. Many people begin a disagreement with an apology, which invites the opposing party to assume that the argument could be wrong, or there could still be a window of opportunity to win.

I like to use this framework for civilly disagreeing with people:

A) I acknowledge your viewpoint

B) But this is the way it has to be

C) Here’s the data and evidence as to why

D) Stop talking and invite the other person to contribute

Most of the time I find that if the data and evidence adequately support the argument I am making, the other person can be reasonable. Sometimes there’s a flaw in that logic because people can be emotionally driven and stubborn, but notice there is no apology within my framework.

When Sorry is OK

I definitely am not a “sorry hater,” meaning that I believe there is a time and place for the word. When you genuinely make an error or inconvenience someone in a way that can be prevented, apologize and move on.

I see a lot of apology happening in PR, where our jobs are to inherently work with busy people to accomplish a goal. But remember road 2 — if you assume you are worthy of the time of others and your request is well-researched and informed, you shouldn’t dock yourself before you’ve even started.

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