Over drinks recently I was asked how I have the balls to interview people. One friend said if she was to do it she'd probably apologise 20 times for just getting in touch in the first place. "Hi, sorry, but would you mind if … so sorry for annoying you, but, sorry, I have a few questions, never mind, sorry, sorry. Sorrrrry. Have a great day!"
Laura: I once apologised for the rain. The rain!
Sara: It may seem harmless and we can laugh at how often and when we find ourselves uttering the word, but there can sometimes be something deeper and more serious going on.
Dee: A lot of the time the sentiment is still there even if I've consciously not said the word. That's worse than apologising.
Well, it can be a way to avoid criticism: "If I say sorry and blame myself, the other person can't blame me".
Sara: My feeling is that part of its ubiquity is rooted deep in our societal conditioning around what it means to be a woman. And when we continue to say 'sorry' in these contexts we are subtly reinforcing disempowering power dynamics.
That makes sense, I apologise all the time. I've actually started to really pay attention to my emails and edit myself. I'm not sorry!
Yeah, and when we say 'I'm sorry', what we're often really saying is: "I'm sorry I have needs, I'm sorry I have boundaries, I'm sorry for taking up space and resources, and ultimately, I'm sorry for existing, even if it is just to serve you. And I'm scared to speak up at all. I don't want to cause conflict, so please don't be upset. I'm sorry."
Dee: We're too polite!
Well this tendency to over-apologise can stem back to messages we may have received as a child, which value politeness above directness and an overemphasis on the protection of others feelings above our own.
On some level women have been taught they shouldn't have needs. When we do, and find ourselves having to speak up for even the most basic and reasonable requests, we are afraid to do so. We are subtly aware we are going against the female script and 'sorry' is used to smooth things over and avoid conflict.
Laura: Apologising when we express our opinion reduces the clarity of our communication and sends a message to others that we doubt ourselves. This can lead to others not giving us the respect we deserve or not taking our views or suggestions seriously.
And while some may see the use of 'sorry' as manipulating or goal-oriented – an attempt to get what we want – it is, but not in the way you might think. It's us trying to keep the script intact, and not cause any trouble or upset anyone by having needs. We want to be likable – another toxic concept that keeps us small.
Calling attention to how we've been conditioned and the disempowering social, economic, and political structures that reinforce and benefit from it is part of what many of the movements right now are about. To make progress we need to question and challenge the conditioning and reinforcing structures.
Yes. Don't say sorry for things that are outside of your control. By doing so you create feelings of guilt and shame that are just not needed which subsequently undermines your self-esteem. Ask yourself what purpose it is serving and whether it's genuinely warranted. Reflect on what you’re thinking and how you feel after saying sorry.
Emma: Yeah. It's so important, now more than ever. And especially in work situations.
Even though now the workplace is supposed to be a place of equality in opportunity and treatment, all these subtle yet powerful male-female dynamics pervade our working lives. And when we say sorry when an apology is not warranted – whether to a man or another woman – we are playing into and reinforcing these dynamics.
Speaking up for our needs is critical to achieving professional (and personal) success in life. We have to speak up for our boundaries or we will burn out and our health and relationships will suffer. We have to take space at the table and be seen to get the promotion, the funding, the contract, the credit.
Laura: In contrast, saving 'sorry' for when we truly mean it is helpful. Being vulnerable, recognising and admitting when we are truly at fault is a sign of growth and maturity.
Sara: True. And at the risk of overgeneralising, it seems to me that men are often willing and able to ask for what they need, while in contrast the female script has us either not speaking up at all or grovelling for what we need with our 'sorrys'. This doesn't serve us.
Our success requires challenging the script and owning our needs at work and in life unapologetically.
Dee and Emma: AMEN.TO.THAT.
On that note, here's a Google Chrome plugin for Gmail called
'just not sorry', inspired by the writings of Tara Mohr which will warn you when you use words or phrases that undermine your email.
And here's a fun twitter account to follow @HearMeApologize about "raising awareness to end women's over-apologizing".