“Apologizing when we have done something wrong is a real strength, but compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.” — Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist, Medicine Revived
I believe that all relationships should be two-sided. A push and pull, yin and yang, ebb and flow: balanced. When we over apologize, we take ownership for things that are not our own. The relationship becomes one-sided, where one person is always in the right and the other is always in the wrong.
What types of relationships fit into that dynamic?
Victim/villain comes to mind…
However you want to characterize it, over apologizing leaves no room for evolution by either party. The victim hones her skills at subservience, silence, and carrying burdens that are not her own. The villain hones her skills at skirting responsibility, blaming others and excuse-making. Both parties lose the opportunity to hone their voice and self-confidence, to develop the skills that accompany a healthy relationship: trust, partnership, humility, honesty, and respect.
Over apologizing is often the easy route. It’s easier to take on all the blame than it is to stand up for yourself. It’s easier to believe that it was all your fault than to examine the things you did right. This victim mentality is pervasive and can seep into all aspects of your life if left unchecked.
So why do we over apologize?
As I mentioned above, the primary reason we do it is that it’s easier. It is the path of least resistance. We don’t want to do the hard thing and speak our truth. We don’t want to make waves. We are biologically programmed to avoid conflict after all!
Therein lies the second reason that we do this: we don’t want the other person to think poorly of us. We don’t want to be seen as a muckraker, argumentative, or god-forbid a human with feelings. Buried deeper within this rationale is that we are trying to control how the other person thinks of us. We want them to like us. We want them to think we are a team player. We have thick skin. We don’t make trouble.
To be clear: We. Are. Being. Manipulative.
Changing what we think, feel, say, and do because we want something to think about us in a certain way is absolutely manipulation in its noblest form.
So not only are we not being authentic by hiding our truth, we are often showing up in a manner than is inconsistent with our values and character. When considered in this light, over apologizing becomes a bit more distasteful.
Further, when we wrongly apologize, we are taking ownership for something. We are implying that there was something overlooked. Something we could have and should have gotten right the first time. Is that true? Could you have foreseen that the client was going to change their mind? That the contractor was going to cancel last minute after you made your husband come home from work for the appointment? Before you consider uttering the words “I’m sorry,” first get clear on what your role was in the “problem.” If there is no clear failure on your behalf — stop talking.
We mustn’t allow ourselves to take ownership for things that are not our own. Rather, we must strive to share the experiences than should be SHARED between all parties. Recognize the discomfort of the situation for all parties but do not apologize for it, as if you created it. Acknowledge that things didn’t go as well as they could have but don’t pretend that the circumstances were masterminded by you and therefore you must apologize.
Sometimes things go wrong. That is life. Unless you are some secret deity, stop taking ownership for it.
Instead of apologizing, try on these options:
Good catch, I hadn’t considered that angle.
Thanks for bringing that to my attention.
Thanks for starting the meeting when my appointment ran long.
Is now a good time to chat? (Instead of “Sorry to bother you…”)
A few things I am taking away from this experience are….
This must be really frustrating for you too.
I can understand why you might be angry about this.
I would like to add… (Instead of “I’m sorry but…”)
Wow, this is really frustrating.
I appreciate your perspective, but I don’t understand why…
Use I’m sorry only if you have truly done something wrong that falls squarely on your shoulders.
And, most importantly, only use it when you really mean it. “I’m sorry” should be a phrase that, when it comes out of your mouth, others appreciate it and know it is genuine because it is not something you throw around lightly.
Chronic over apologizer? If the above concepts make you uncomfortable, grab a free session and start trimming “I’m sorry” out of your standard vocabulary.