Saying, ‘I’m sorry’ is the same as saying, ‘I apologize.’ Except at a funeral.
A few years ago, the shampoo Pantene did a commercial in which women apologized for a variety of common actions: for speaking up in a meeting, for asking a co-worker for an opinion, even for using a shared armrest. The ad highlighted a growing problem, particularly among women: apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong.
It’s understandable to apologize if you’ve acted inappropriately or offended someone. You can even make an argument for apologizing strategically; when dealing with a tricky client, for instance, it might be best to take the blame for a misunderstanding rather than imply that your customer was wrong. But apologizing too often can have negative consequences, both personally and professionally.
On the professional side, excess apologies might brand you as someone who makes frequent mistakes. Your coworkers or your boss might start to believe you’re less competent than other employees. And saying you’re sorry when you’ve done nothing wrong can make you seem insecure or weak.
But the personal toll can be a bigger issue. What message do you send yourself if you’re always apologizing? There’s a real danger that you’ll start to see yourself as less competent, less secure, and less important than others.
So how can you protect yourself from “sorry syndrome”?
First, determine if you have a problem. Ask a few trusted friends, family members or coworkers if they believe you’re overly apologetic. If so, you ought to take action.
Become aware of your words and try to keep track of how often you apologize and why. Once you’ve identified common situations where you’re using “sorry” unnecessarily, come up with alternate terms that fit the situation without assigning blame. Your friends and family can help as well, giving you gentle reminders to help you reshape your behavior.
Words have power, and when we repeat a message regularly to others, we tend to believe it ourselves. So don’t undermine yourself by constantly apologizing. We all make enough mistakes in life; don’t shoulder blame where there is none.
I can wholeheartedly apologize for not being at all sorry. And it really is the least I can do.
Copyright © 2021 John Chancellor and Cheryl Chancellor