Stop saying sorry and say this instead
Do you find yourself apologizing when you haven’t done anything wrong? Many women have the perception of wrongdoing and say “I’m sorry” in situations where no apology is necessary. Unfortunately, over apologizing can diminish your strength during business deals. It affects others’ perceptions of you. Most importantly saying “I’m sorry” all the time can undermine your self-confidence.
So do women really apologize more than men? Yes, and no. According to a research article by Karina Schumann and Michael Ross of the University of Waterloo, “Women reported offering more apologies than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. There was no gender difference in the proportion of offenses that prompted apologies. This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.”
In other words, women feel like they need to apologize more than men do. Women also tend to see these apologies as explanations. Men however, see them as excuses. In What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business, Christopher Flett explains, “Men look at each other and roll their eyes when women break out into an excuse for something that has happened. Because we are goal driven, we don't care about what gets in the way of the goal. You either did something or you didn’t.”
This year, my goal was to stop saying I’m sorry so much. It took a while for me to find a comfortable substitute. I tried trading remorse for gratitude by saying things like “Thanks for waiting” instead of “Sorry I’m late.” I’ve also edited emails to remove the I’m sorrys, but what I really wanted was to just stop saying I’m sorry in the first place.
Enter my magic word - unfortunately. For me, unfortunately expresses regret, but doesn’t give away power. Rather than apologizing when I don’t want to loan out something, or attend an event, or make a donation, I now simply say, “Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me.” And then I stop talking. That’s the key. Just like you shouldn’t over apologize, you shouldn’t over explain.
While there is certainly a time and a place for a real apology, most people use apologies as a “smoothing” technique, in the hopes of avoiding a tough conversation or hurting the other person’s feelings. The next time you feel the need to apologize, pause to think about why. If you’ve done something wrong, by all means say so! But if you’re just trying to avoid offending the other person, try saying unfortunately instead. You won’t be giving in, and you’ll feel like a stronger person.
If you want to learn more about how men think in the workplace, check out What Men Don’t Tell Women. It’s an easy read and I guarantee you’ll grab some valuable nuggets that will explain some of the behavior you don’t understand at work.