Published on October 16, 2019, at 4:30 p.m.
by Justine Groeber.
How many times have you apologized for sending that much-needed, follow-up email? Or have said, “I’m sorry to bother you but …” to a client before asking them a question? While interjecting a quick “I’m sorry” might seem like the best way to start off that email or conversation, these are unwarranted apologies.
If you can’t see yourself in these scenarios, you’re in the minority. A 2015 YouGov poll shows that Americans are quick to apologize for minor things, like when someone bumps into you or you are standing
in someone’s way.
According to Executive Coach Melody Wilding, a tendency to over-apologize can stem from a genuine desire to demonstrate respect, but it can also come from an aversion to conflict. This means claiming responsibility for something in order to avoid a problem, or as Wilding calls it, “a preemptive peace-keeping strategy.” It’s easy to assume that subconsciously saying sorry is the respectful thing to do, but really, it could have negative effects on your career.
Several expert sources have noted that apologizing for every minor inconvenience undermines your authority and suggests that you are accepting responsibility for something you may have no control over. Executive Coach Evan Weselake said that apologies are about taking responsibility and committing to doing it differently next time, so “if you aren’t responsible or would do the same again, then it’s not the time to say sorry.”
Public relations professionals seek to create win-win situations for client organizations and their publics. This desire to ensure mutually beneficial relationships could lead to a habit of over-apologizing.
A sincere apology goes a long way in mending a relationship or accepting fault, but just like anything else, the words “I’m sorry” lose their value when overused. Some argue that an apology should be made up of more than just the words “I’m sorry,” so when apologies come too easily it seems flippant and illegitimate (Psychology Today).
Overusing this verbal crutch also conveys a lack of confidence to your clients, co-workers or employers. Psychotherapist Beverly Engel wrote in her book “The Power of an Apology” that over-apologizing and over-complimenting aren’t so different — you may think saying “I’m sorry” makes you seem like a thoughtful person, but you’re actually indicating that you are insecure.
So if you find yourself stuck in a never-ending cycle of unwarranted apologies, try expressing gratitude instead. When you ask your client that question, thank them for their help rather than apologizing for using their time — the words “thank you” often mean more than an apology.