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Sorry, Not Sorry: Why We Need to Stop Apologizing

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

A year ago at my old office, we had an intern who led almost all of her sentences with “I’m sorry…” I noticed she did it when she showed up on time or had an important question to ask, or when she just put her folders on the table we are sitting at.

So, really nothing to be sorry about. She was just working like everyone else. But she was compelled to say she was sorry for being there. Or taking up space. Or feeling less than for some reason.

I pointed this out to her, gently, during our first month working together. She said it was a habit she knew about but couldn’t figure out how to stop.

But there’s a reason we need to be aware of empty apologies.

Author Jen Fisher points out “over-apologizing comes at a cost. First, it weakens the sentiment in those instances when it’s actually warranted. And second, it makes us appear less confident, which can in turn make us less confident.

“So how can we stop apologizing as a reflex and reclaim the power of the apology for when we really need it? If you’re an over-apologizer, don’t apologize! Here are nine ways we can all up our apology game.”

Below are the nine ways we can practice “not apologizing” more:

1. Know when not to apologize

2. Make adjustments if you need to

If you find yourself apologizing for one particular thing, go to the source of the problem. Maybe there is a small change you can make that will save you from having to say you’re sorry. For instance, if you find yourself constantly running late (one of the most common apology triggers), you may need to rethink the way you’re scheduling your days or managing your calendar.

3. Be open and honest

4. Learn from it

5. Laugh about it

6. Empathy is better than sympathy

Sympathy is saying, “I’m sorry that happened.” Empathy is saying, “It sounds like that was really difficult for you.” There’s nothing wrong with sympathy, but empathy is a powerful way to open up a conversation and deepen a relationship. We can also draw on our empathy to proactively stop someone else from feeling the need to apologize. If there’s a baby crying during a meeting, saying, “I feel just like she does today!” can ease the discomfort being felt by the mother or father.

7. Try gratitude

8. Don’t apologize for self-care

9. Give yourself and others a little grace

As our society begins to open back up and people begin to return to the workplace, it’s not always going to go smoothly. People are going to have different comfort levels about masks, social distancing, and simply being around other people again. So give yourself some grace. Don’t feel the need to apologize for doing what you need to do to be comfortable. And extend that grace outward, too, since we don’t always know what challenges others are dealing with.

It’s been a difficult few years for everybody. And there are going to be plenty of times when we really do need to apologize. So let’s not be sorry about maintaining the power of such an important tool by not overusing it.

Continue Sorry, Not Sorry: Why We Need to Stop Apologizing by Jen Fischer.

Continuing Your Personal Development

Read more posts about personal development:

Best of luck to you on your personal development journey!

Joseph Rios, Ed.D., publishes on Medium three times a week; follow him here to get each post in your email — and if you’re not a Medium member, you can join here.

Joseph works in non-profit workforce development, after 20 years working in higher education administration. He has a background in diversity, equity, and inclusion education, professional development, training, and leadership development. He’s the author of Tales of a Displaced Worker, The SAGA Facilitation Model, and Right Here, Right Now: Prioritizing Your Personal Development in Times of Crisis.



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Joseph Rios EdD

Joseph Rios EdD

I believe leadership is the expression of values. Career Coach | Educator | Writer | Social Justice Advocate | Trainer.