Do you say “I’m sorry” a lot? Or maybe you’ve talked with someone who says “I’m sorry” constantly, as a regular pattern of speech, and you felt a bit annoyed? Even when there seems to be no mistake or reason, no rudeness or intrusion, no accidental fall or spill—despite lack of any cause, “sorry” becomes as frequent as “like” or “you know.” Except “sorry” acts differently in our sentences, interrupting and punctuating our speech rather than just carrying it on. Sure, like saying you know all the time can be like irritating, but those phrases are part of our casual, idiomatic speech and mostly meaningless. However, saying “I’m sorry” too much takes a toll on how your statements, thoughts and opinions are received and on how you are viewed by others.
When you apologize too much, in this habitual way, the “sorry” tends to qualify or discount your statement. You may appear less confident, less knowledgeable, powerless or clumsy. You may not be taken as seriously, and indeed many women find this is the case in work and professional environments. However, I have seen both men and women use “sorry” too much—as a spoken reflex—and I’d like to offer you a few ways to help you become more aware of this sorry trap and make changes.
- Increase your self-awareness. Make a deliberate effort to notice when you say “I’m sorry.” Are you nervous? In a new situation or under pressure? Distracted? Notice how you feel and what is going on in your environment and with the people around you when you typically let out a “sorry.” This practice is to help you realize that the “sorry” comes out reflexively more so than intentionally. Becoming aware of when and where our habits occur is a first step to changing them.
- Observe your body language. This gives you another clue that you might have just said “I’m sorry” or are about to say it. People with this tendency often cover their mouth partially when they speak and especially if they say “sorry.” Or you may notice that a gesture occurs simultaneously, such as putting a hand up. Maybe you look down, turn your head or furrow your brow. Now you have information about what you are doing when you are saying “I’m sorry,” which gives you another chance to interrupt these signals.
- Enlist support. Not from a critical person in your life but from someone who is emotionally generous. Let them know you are on a self-improvement mission to say “sorry” less, and ask them to help you. Maybe they will point it out directly or find a humorous way to bring your attention to it. Now you have added the awareness of another person to your self-awareness, increasing the likelihood and power to change this habit.
- Download an app. Believe it or not, there’s an app for that! Check out the Just Not Sorry Gmail Plug-In which was developed to highlight qualifying and discrediting words, such as “I’m sorry,” “just” and “actually” used frequently in emails. This app gives you the option to strike these words from the text and strengthen your language and message. Learn more about this app and how it impacts women in the workplace here.
Try these steps to becoming more self-aware and confident, and free yourself from the sorry trap.