Do you ever find yourself compulsively apologizing? When someone bumps into you, are you the first to blurt out “sorry,” even if it wasn’t your fault? If so, you are not alone.
I worked my first office job the summer of 2018, and something I noticed was how almost every email I sent contained an apology, even when something wasn’t necessarily my fault. Curious, I asked my male coworker if I could “keyword search” his sent emails. I searched “sorry,” and four emails surfaced. However, when I searched the same on my email account, over 30 emails popped up.
This raised the question to me: is apologizing equivalent to being polite? Often when I am navigating some kind of social interaction or service, my first reaction is to apologize before I even request something, as if I’m already an inconvenience.
In “Why Women Apologize More Than Men: Gender Differences in Thresholds for Perceiving Offensive Behavior,” a study conducted in 2010 for the Psychological Science journal, it found that men apologize less frequently than women. This wasn’t due to lack of remorse per se, but because they had a “higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior,” the article stated.
The men and women in the study were asked to evaluate imaginary and recalled offenses. Men showed a pattern of rating offenses less severe, showcasing that they were less likely to offer an apology because they didn’t believe the situation warranted one. The women generally rated the offenses more severely, which would explain why women apologize more even if they are in the same situation.
“The problem is [men] find very few infractions deserving of an apology, and women are apologizing for just about everything,” stated Maja Jovanovic, Ph.D., a sociology professor at McMaster University and author of “Hey Ladies, Stop Apologizing and Other Career Mistakes Women Make,” in an NBC article by Vivian Manning-Schaffel on the topic.
I want to make it clear that these studies are definitely not claiming that all men are poor at apologizing. It also isn’t saying that all women are compulsive apologizers. It is only saying that there is a clear trend that women most often assume the passive role of apologizing in social situations, whereas men often don’t deem it worthy of apologizing. However, there are always outliers to these claims or patterns.
One of these outliers exists on our campus in the form of Dr. Linda Royall, Ph.D., professor and director of student media for ORU.
“I’m not a very apologetic person,” Royall explained. “I don’t feel the need to apologize, but I do feel the need to be kind.”
Royall believes this characteristic, as well as being able to differentiate between being apologetic and being kind, helped her navigate careers as she left college with a business degree, which is still a male-dominated field.
So how do we evolve from the apologetic women that we were formed to be into women with a more empowering mindset? Simply, stop apologizing and say “thank you” instead.
This is a tactic I experimented with in my last job. In every situation where I would needlessly apologize, I found a way to say “thank you” instead. An example: I received an email from a coworker pointing out a minor error in one of my works. Normally, this is a situation in which I would apologize profusely for the mistake. Instead, I thanked my coworker for catching the error, fixed it and moved on.
I believe that saying “sorry” when it isn’t necessary forces the person saying it to assume a weaker and more submissive role. When substituting “sorry” with “thank you,” it turns the situation around, allowing the person to maintain confidence while encouraging those they are interacting with.
In a previous job position in manufacturing, Royall worked her way up to a supervising position which had only been possessed by men at the time.
“I will never forget when my payscale came down,” Royall recalled.
Her first paycheck in the new position rolled around, and she only received half of what the man before her in the same position had earned. When asked why the payscale had plummeted, Royall’s boss explained that it was because the previous man was “a family man, and you are just a woman.” At the time, Royall was a single mother of two, and the previous supervisor’s family was comprised of himself and his wife.
Royall confronted the issue head on, filing one of the first Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuits.
“I didn’t apologize, that’s for sure,” Royall laughed.
Royall was granted the same salary as the man before her and reimbursed for the money they had deprived her of in her previous checks.
In the words of Royall, it really comes down to being able to distinguish the difference between “taking blame and taking responsibility.” Apologizing isn’t bad. It’s still important to hold yourself responsible for your own mistakes and shortcomings.
Say “sorry” when you need to, but don’t let it become the default. Instead, be kind and be confident.
For more tips on how to avoid apologizing, check out the link below: