Women’s tendency to over-apologize resurfaces as a hot topic when celebrities vocalize this issue. Case in point: Emma Stone, while promoting her new movie, “Battle of the Sexes”, discussed her “reflex to apologize whenever something went wrong”, even when that something had little or nothing to do with her. Likewise, two comedians, Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, highlighted this trait among women — Amy through a hilarious skit titled “I’m Sorry” on her show, Inside Amy Schumer, and Lena through a published article titled Sorry, Not Sorry: My Apology Addiction.
As women, we recognize that our chronic apologizing is an issue, yet we find it difficult to break this credibility-killing habit.
I was a constant apologizer until a male colleague brought it to my attention and told me it was undermining my stature. Like Emma Stone, apologizing was such a natural reflex for me whenever anything went even slightly wrong, regardless of who was at fault. But my chronic apologizing did not stop there. I even apologized when I requested something — “sorry to bother you but can you send me …” — even if it was squarely in the scope of my authority to make the request. When someone was late with a deliverable, my reminder sounded something like “I know you must be busy and sorry to bug you but I really need (what you promised me 4 hours ago).” But of course, I left that last part out.
I was determined to break my “sorry reflex”, but I was unsure how to start the process of detoxifying myself from chronic apologizing. I decided to start with my e-mails, and committed to pause and reflect when I typed the words “sorry” and “apologize”.
Each time I caught myself typing those words, I asked myself “Should I really be sorry about this?”, and most of the time I realized I should not be sorry at all, and deleted the words.
I found myself deleting “sorry” or “apologize” from my e-mails 5 to 10 times a day!
I was astonished at how often I wrote those words. Becoming more aware of the habitual “sorries” in my e-mails and taking the time to turn off the automatic-pilot apologizer in me led me to apologize less in person. “Sorry” became a very meaningful word, one that I only stated when warranted.
My newfound awareness and e-mail protocol also led me to help other women identify and break the “sorry reflex”. When they sent an e-mail with those words, I replied, “There is no reason to apologize”, and gave them the rationale of why they should not be sorry.
Here’s a call to action for all my women colleagues: take the challenge to stop apologizing, and start with e-mail.
It will not only increase your impact and credibility, but it will also increase these attributes in women who consider you a role model.
And sorry if this article comes off as too assertive … not.