The other day, I was jogging on a popular running path at 7 a.m. I passed several people walking, jogging slower and several bikes passed me. If you not familiar with the public path etiquette, a typical way to go around is to announce "on your left." This courtesy allows for the people who are being passed to know someone is coming and for the faster person to go around safely. I was running up on three women running at a slow clip, so I yelled, "on your left." When I passed, I said “thanks and good morning." One of the women said, "sorry." To which I replied, “no need to apologize, you did nothing wrong."
This made me begin to think about how often people say they are sorry. You see, several days before this incident, I discussed apologizing with my son's tutor.
She is a very competent expert in addition to having a charming demeanor. I was dropping my son at her home, and I mistakenly brought him 15 minutes early due to an email miscommunication. As we were discussing the miscommunication, she frequently apologized, so much that I felt she wasn’t listening to our conversation. Not only did she say "sorry" repetitively, but it wasn't even her fault!
I acknowledge the two examples happen to have occurred in non-corporate settings, although, I assume the frequency in a corporate environment is comparable.
I used to apologize often while in a corporate role. For example, my typical practice at the beginning of an email explaining not being able to schedule a meeting at the requested time. I'd write, "Apologies, but I have a conflict during that time." Why was I apologizing for my schedule? I could have said, "I'm unavailable at the suggested time and can do another time." These occurrences happen in both professional and personal situations. Choice of words can leave impressions.
I'm not encouraging you to shy away when requesting forgiveness for a genuine mistake. Saying you are sorry often requires a high level of awareness, courage and well thought out use of your words.
Why this culture of over-apologizing? Since when did it become a fashionable way to show our humility or kindness? Here is how the Merriam - Webster Dictionary defines sorry.
1: feeling sorrow, regret, or penitence
2: mournful, sad
3: inspiring sorrow, pity, scorn, or ridicule; pitiful
Do you remember what you apologized for today, yesterday last week? How does it fit with the literal definition? Chances are, it doesn't fit the situation or circumstances you were experiencing when you felt the need to say "sorry." So what’s causing this response? Regardless of the underlying cause, limiting how often you are asking for forgiveness can influence communication results.
Here are 3 reasons why saying sorry can negatively impact your interactions.
What do you think about people who over complement? If they are dishing out compliments all the time, you begin to expect it, so it’s less meaningful. Sometimes apologizing is warranted because you've done something wrong or made a mistake. Humans mess up. Although, when you always apologize for the smallest of mishaps or when not at fault, your words begin to lose value. Finding the courage to apologize is admirable, so don't devalue the act, but doing it too much. This rule goes for both verbal and written communication.
It can be terrifying to deal with conflict depending on the situation or the person with whom you have an interaction. These occurrences are when skills like asking questions and listening can come in handy. When we have difficult discussions regardless of where the blame lays, it's crucial to share the communication process versus practicing avoidance with an apology. Asking for forgiveness to take the responsibility can begin a pattern that diminishes self-confidence and allows others to take advantage or display bad behaviors. Using your voice effectively in conflict situations will result in better outcomes.
According to Henry David Thoreau, "It's not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see." In cases of over-apologizing, what are others hearing from your communication, then inferring? While requesting forgiveness for warranted mistakes often demonstrates humility, accountability, and self-awareness, repetitive apologies can come across as lacking confidence and the ability to genuinely listen to focus on outcomes and solutions with the other person.
So I leave you with a request to hold yourself accountable to notice when you apologize and begin to try to remove un-needed apologies from your daily vocabulary. Make a conscious effort to help others do the same and be empowered to point out when there is no need to ask for forgiveness.