How many times have you apologized this week? Of those apologies, how many were for legitimate offenses, and how many were for, actually, nothing? Maybe you responded to a request for salt by passing the seasoning while muttering an offhand, “Oh, here, sorry.”
“Sorry.” Sorry? Why? What wrong act did you commit in passing the salt for which you now need atone? None? Don’t worry, friend. You’re not alone. Most of us do this often and without thinking about it at all.
Remorse, Regret, and Ridiculousness
From my unscientific observation, I’ve broken “sorry”s down into three categories. Firstly are apologies for remorse. You did something you ought not to have done. Make it right and apologize. Ideally, now.
Secondly are apologies for regret. You may not have had a hand in whatever went wrong, but you want someone to know you’d rather things hadn’t gone badly for them. I’m talking about expressions of remorse along these lines: “I’m sorry the storm this weekend damaged your roof.” Acknowledging another person’s hardship and offering empathy is thoughtful and makes both parties feel good. No harm there. That said, “How can I help?” might go a lot farther.
Thirdly are apologies of pure ridiculousness. I’ve bumped into a table while crossing a room, while alone in my home — and apologized. We can agree that apologies to inanimate objects are absurd, right? They’re also wildly common and part of what I want to talk about.
Ladies, I’m talking to you.
You probably won’t be surprised to read that women tend to apologize more often than men. You might be surprised why. No. Women are not universally nicer than men.
According to an article in Inc. Magazine, women apologize more because they have a lower bar when measuring what requires an apology. It’s not a self-esteem thing, though it can become that. Because women are more likely to see a need for an apology, whether given or received, they can be inclined to guilt and self-blame.
As men tend to see fewer situations as needing apologies, they can be perceived as insensitive. That’s not to say one side is right and the other is wrong. It’s just different. I’ve seen this first hand.
I used to work in a predominantly female environment with the nicest coworkers on the planet. The amount of kindness on our team was, frankly, ridiculous. Everyone looked out for everyone else and worked well as a team. Yet, even with a group so focused on positivity, we found plenty to apologize for.
To put it in perspective, if I had a quarter for every time I heard an apology for something that didn’t require one I’d be writing this post from my private island.
Now, my day job is in an office with slightly more men than women. These coworkers, too, are remarkably nice. Kindness? Still in abundance. Support? Over the top. Excessive apologies. Nope. That got me paying attention to my apologies: when I make them, and why.
“I do not think that means what you think it means.”
In one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya responds to the continual misuse of the word “inconceivable” with the above quote. His boss, Vizzini, uses the word as dramatic punctuation every time a scheme is foiled. It’s almost offhand. I find myself and others using apologies the same way.
The question is, if “I’m sorry” is the filler, what are we really trying to say? Let’s have fun with this. I’m sorry has many translations:
- When I’m startled while hyper-focused: “My default reactions are shrieking and apologizing. Your appearance/comment/existence startled me and apologizing seemed better than screaming at you.”
- When I’m overcommitted and distracted: “I saw your lips moving, but was cycling through 37 items competing for my mental bandwidth. Your words did not make my high priority list. Please repeat yourself.”
- And, most other times: “I couldn’t think of anything else to say and knew it was my turn to speak.”
However, sometimes the meaning behind the apology is less about being frazzled and more about self-esteem or frame-of-mind. See whether you relate to these alternative meanings:
- Have you ever said, “Sorry. Do you mind doing this for me?” Are you really telling that person you consider their time/effort more valuable than your own?
- Another driver behind this behavior is self-doubt. It’s a fear that you or your work are unworthy and unlikeable. You apologize for exposing another person to your self-assessed sub-par creation. “Sorry to ask this of you, but could you look this over?”
- And, finally, our apologies for existing. This happens when we fall into the habit of randomly opening sentences that way–or when we ask furniture for forgiveness. As if the intrusion of our words or presence is inherently disruptive.
Fun fact: you and your time/effort are valuable. If you have a reasonable request/comment/contribution, skip the sorry. Not only does a reduction in superfluous sorrys build self-esteem, it adds impact and sincerity to appropriate apologies.
Whatever the reason for extra apologies in your life, taking a look at the whys, whens, and hows might have the benefit of a more confident you. I’m not suggesting we go through life heartlessly. Merely, that we save our sorrys for the times we truly are.
Here’s a challenge. For the next week (or three days, or 24 hours. Your choice.), either out loud or internally, add the word “for” to every apology. Or, add the word “that,” if it is the correct word.
Dear Reader, I vow to never ask you to compromise your grammar–even in the pursuit of personal growth.
Then, finish the sentence acknowledging your responsibility for whatever you’re sorry about. You’ll get a read on how often you needlessly apologize in no time. Of course, this survey of remorse will almost certainly promote pride in your social awareness and kind nature.
It’s true! Try it! You’re almost certainly incredibly nice!
Additionally, you’re likely to get some giggles and eye-rolls over how many times you, too, apologize when it’s not necessary.
The Fine Print
These behaviors are not absolutes. However you identify, you probably know whether you are an over- or under-apologizer. It’s not about gender. Not even about right or wrong. It’s just something to consider when doing something we often do without consideration.
I hope you enjoyed the past few minutes of reading. If you didn’t, I’m…hopeful you’ll like my next piece more. 😉