I have a problem: I am continuously apologizing for things that are not my fault. For instance, I say sorry to waiters when they get my order wrong, I apologize to myself when I trip and fall, and I even apologize to other people’s dogs when they start barking!
I’m unsure when exactly this started, but as a child, I was never one to seek out trouble. Whenever I did find myself in hot water, an apology always seemed like the easiest way out. But now, things have gotten excessive.
According to a recent study from the University of Waterloo, I am not alone in this struggle. The research found that there is a significant gender gap when it comes to how often men and women apologize. Women apologizing more frequently than men is common practice, but what’s interesting is that they also say “sorry” for much smaller offenses.
For instance, I have taken to apologizing to my yoga teacher when I cannot maintain the position in my beginner class. This is not an ideal situation.
“By taking responsibility for things that aren’t your fault, you denigrate your self-esteem,” Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., author of Master Your Fears: How to Triumph Over Your Worries and Get on with Your Life ($16, amazon.com), tells Fitness magazine.
“Women are biologically wired for harmony and nurturing. For most women the apology is a way of keeping the peace,” says Judi Clements of Judi Clements Training & Development. She explained a study in which girls were divided into groups and offered one pickle. Unlike the boys, who each fought to take the entire pickle for themselves, the girls went out of their way to make sure that everyone got an equal share. Women would rather endure an unpleasant experience—like sharing a single pickle—than make a mistake or upset someone.
Women have a habit of automatically apologizing.
“Men aren’t actively resisting apologizing because they think it will make them appear weak or because they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions,” said study researcher Karina Schumann, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Waterloo. “It seems to be that when they think they’ve done something wrong they do apologize just as frequently as when women think they’ve done something wrong. It’s just that they think they’ve done fewer things wrong.”
To be honest, I apologize a lot because it gives me an air of politeness. Usually, I do it intending to make the other person feel bad and forgive me for something smallish I did– like spill water on the floor or accidentally pick up her coffee from Starbucks. In some settings, this wouldn’t hurt my image, but in an office setting, this could be harmful to my career.
“But it seems that if many men are issuing apologies without understanding why, and women are both issuing and demanding apologies with greater frequency, there is an obvious misalignment. The act of apologizing can be dangerous, as it creates a power dynamic where the person doing the apologizing is at a disadvantage.
Bottom line: If you’re constantly apologizing to your coworkers, they will start to respect you less.
But how can we power through this?
- Keep a tally of how many times you apologize throughout the day. Examine when you say it, how frequently, and why. Are there instances where an apology is necessary, or do you act like apologizing is the end of the world?
- Only use “I’m sorry” when you mean it. There’s no need to apologize for forgetting to put extra sugar in your friend’s coffee. Keep that “I’m sorry” saved for when a friend is going through a tough time and needs your support because otherwise, your words will lose value.
- Apologize efficiently. A lot of us were taught to apologize when we’re running late or causing someone inconvenience, but being polite can be detrimental at work. Instead of saying “sorry,” try expressing gratitude: “Thank you for your patience; I appreciate it.”
In your opinion, do women apologize more often than they should? Let us know in the comments section below!