When I was a Masters student, I often had to ask research organizations to share their data for my thesis. One time, after sending an email, much to my chagrin I realized I’d asked for the wrong set.
I wrote them another email, apologizing for the miscommunication and asking for the other data set.
Before I sent it off, I gave it to my supervisor to check for tone and errors. She sent it back with just a single change: She removed the phrase “I’m sorry.”
“Never apologize,” she said to me as she handed me back my draft.
“Never pretend it wasn’t something you set out to do. If you go through life broadcasting every misstep you make to all parties involved, they’ll take you a lot less seriously, and you’ll take yourself a lot less seriously.”
I was surprised. Apologizing, to me, seemed like a common and polite way to express your gratitude at someone taking time out of their day to do a small favor.
When she pointed out that it would be incredibly minor for them to send the data to me, and that I didn’t need to be sorry, I actually apologized. For apologizing.
“Those who refuse to express remorse maintain a greater sense of control and feel better about themselves than those who take no action after making a mistake.” — CJ Petrucci, California State University
I started re-reading the emails I was sending. I checked myself when I spoke to my superiors. And what I spotted was that I apologized all the time.
Even when I wasn’t sorry. Even when it wasn’t my fault. Even if nobody had done anything wrong. I just said “sorry.”
Why do we apologize? And why should we choose not to? Was my supervisor right, and should I avoid apologizing over minor things?