I live in a part of the world where apologies are offered for everything – discomfort, weather, missed delivery, mispronunciation, hiccups. Not necessary as an assumption of guilt or responsibility, but as a tool for inserting oneself or, more often, saving face. For what are we even apologizing? Here is the thing: even if you have done something wrong, apologizing is A) not going to fix it, and B) will have ramifications for you down the road. And, most likely C) is not worth the effort and you don’t mean it anyway. Too much of a good thing begins to sour after time, whether it’s chocolate, flowers or apologies. Because, what happens when you actually NEED to apologize? Suddenly, it doesn’t carry as much weight because you’ve been throwing it around like confetti.
Why do we feel like we are required to apologize? Honestly, feeling as though we are culpable is not a positive feeling. In fact, it is a burden to bear the weight of these actions. Women, in general, apologize more than men, especially in the workplace. Is it because they feel more guilty? Or have they been raised to get things accomplished with a greater amount of graciousness? Are we more focused on people liking us and wanting to make a good impression? Maybe. Also, over-apologizing is a common symptom amongst individuals with low self-esteem, fear of conflict and a fear of what others think. This goes hand-in-hand with poor boundaries, perhaps accepting blame for things we didn’t do or couldn’t control. We instantly feel guilty like everything is our fault—When someone is afraid of rejection and criticism, they will go out of their way to be accommodating. Are we really at fault? Maybe. Is it worth an apology? Not an automatic one!
Different cultures apologize for different things and in different ways. In some countries, you can send a quick SMS (U.S.), in others a gift is appreciated (Brazil). In some ‘I’m sorry” is not an assumption of guilt so much as a notice of possible discomfort, and in yet others there are completely different words one can use to express pity or regret versus when you are accepting blame or not. In the U.K., one uses “I’m sorry” to insert a point in a conversation, among other reasons. In Asian countries, often an apology is more about saving face than accepting responsibility.
Action: Instead of apologizing, and focus instead of the positive action the other individual might have to make. For example, you are late for a meeting or meet-up. “Thank you for the extra minutes you waited. I appreciate your patience.” Below are a few other suggestion to stop suggesting guilt and accepting blame.
Instead of “sorry to bother you,” say “do you have a moment?” or “Is now a good time to chat?”
Instead of “sorry to hear that,” say “that must be hard for you” or “I can only imagine what you’re going through right now.”
Instead of “sorry to interrupt”, say “I’d love to share my ideas with you.”
Instead of “sorry for messing that up,” say “thank you for pointing that out, I’ll be more careful next time” or “I take full responsibility for that.”
Instead of “sorry for talking so much,” say “thank you for listening.”
Instead of “sorry, can we move this meeting?” say “I appreciate your flexibility.”
Instead of “sorry, I don’t agree,” say “let’s look at it from another angle.”
Instead of “sorry, I can’t make it,” say “thank you for thinking of me! Maybe next time.”
What does this have to do with parenting? Well, especially in an international school setting, our kids grow up with different nuances on those “sorry!” utterances, and need to learn to develop their apology etiquette. It is a fine line one must learn to navigate, depending where in the world they land. Beginning at a young age, when we are enforcing our kids to apologize for hitting their brother or for not sharing toys, we are underscoring the importance of the words. Using them as we intend, bring the impact we hope, conveying the feelings we hope, this is a skill to learn. Unfortunately, we are also teaching our kids about empty and meaningless apologies.
Save your sorry for the moments you genuinely do need to apologize; dropping them left and right dilutes the meaning and impact. The apology is running amok in conversations and communications. We drop it indiscriminately, crying mea culpa for all manner of things we really shouldn’t be sorry for—and diluting the apologies that truly matter. Save the apologies for when you are truly sorry, and the words are important.
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