An embarrassment of apologies

“I’m sorry…,” “Apologies but…” — making a mistake and apologizing for it is just common decency. But should you do it all the time and for everything?

Apologizing every time you want someone’s attention for two minutes, ask a question, or express disagreement — or even apologizing for apologizing — means you’ve turned into a victim of “sorry syndrome.” According to an article in The New York Times, women are more affected than their male counterparts. A series of studies show that men and women don’t give the same importance to apologizing. Women are more often convinced they’ve given offense, while men are less likely to think they’ve offended anyone. Why does it matter? Apologizing can be beneficial for everyone, and it makes it easier to live in peace with each other. In a professional context, however, this behavior is often perceived as a sign of weakness and a lack of confidence, even though it is actually a mark of empathy.

Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, suggests we think carefully about the impact of excuses so we can avoid being seen as fragile and weak. It’s not such an easy task, especially for women, who are undervalued if they apologize but are deemed aggressive if they appear more confident. For any regular practitioner of the art of making excuses, it’s up to you to find the right balance between your communication style and the way other people perceive it. You can start by examining these four key issues: (1) ask yourself why you are sorry; (2) observe the behavior of people around you; (3) understand when excuses are needed; and (4) explain why you’re apologizing to avoid any misunderstanding.

To go further: No, you don’t have to stop apologizing by Kristin Wong, The New York Times (22 April 2019)