How to Stop Apologizing

If you’re like me, you say “I’m sorry” way too often when you have nothing to be sorry about. Men apologize too, but recent studies suggest that women are 37 percent more likely to apologize than men. Sure, an apology may be in order when our behavior impacts someone negatively and in a way we hadn’t intended. For example, I recently upset a colleague when I interrupted her during a meeting with a client. I apologized sincerely. I regretted my actions and regretted upsetting her. But too often we say sorry when we have done nothing wrong. Sloane Crosley of the New York Times suggested that this behavior may stem from centuries of women lacking rights and having to be very indirect to survive. In fact, Mika Brzezinski, in her book, Knowing Your Value, shares current-day advice from many successful women about the need to “smile and be relentlessly pleasant” and to be “tough as nails and warm as toast” when negotiating for a raise or promotion. But none of these women suggest that apologizing is ever an effective negotiating tactic, or an effective way to communicate to get what you want—unless you are trying to mend a relationship. A recent article included this list of situations where it is common, and counterproductive, for women to apologize:

  • When asking for a raise or promotion you have earned
  • When asking for vacation time you have earned
  • When reminding someone to do something they said they would do, but didn’t
  • For having an opinion
  • For not responding to someone immediately
  • For having an emotional reaction to something
  • For not getting the dish you ordered at a restaurant
Here are some steps you can take to stop apologizing:
  1. Get clear about what you want before you ask. Many women are so focused on meeting the needs of others that they don’t know what their needs and wants are.
  2. Practice asking for what you want, or saying what you have to say, without apologizing.
  3. Be prepared with information about why you should get what you want. Be clear that you deserve this promotion or raise and present your accomplishments. Be prepared with alternatives if you don’t get what you first ask for, don’t ask yes or no questions, and don’t apologize for asking.
  4. Be direct. Make declarative statements about what you want or what your opinion is, without apologizing. Don’t raise your voice at the end of a sentence to imply you are asking a question instead of making a statement. Many women feel that it is rude to make statements, but your communication will actually be clearer and less confusing to others if you are direct.
  5. Be pleasant. There is rarely a time when being rude is either appropriate or effective. Think about it. If someone is rude to you when they ask for something from you, how motivated are you to get it for them? Being pleasant is useful for everyone but especially important for women. Remember, simply asking for what you want is not rude, so there is no need to apologize.
For many of us, apologizing is a habit and breaking a habit requires determination and practice. Make a pact with a friend or coworker to point out when you are apologizing unnecessarily. Becoming conscious of this behavior goes a long way toward stopping it and support helps. Are you ready to take the pledge to stop apologizing? Have you been successful in breaking this habit? Let me know what worked for you!   Image credit: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at]]>