I was spending time with a couple of girlfriends over the July 4th weekend and was struck by how many times I heard the word sorry. Sorry for taking a long time to get ready, sorry for not accelerating enough to merge onto the freeway, sorry for taking too long to order lunch and sorry for having to leave early to have dinner with family. I have also started to pay attention to how many times I say sorry, although in the past few months I’ve become quite conscious about it and decided there were other words and phrases to use that were more appropriate and less apologetic.
However, in general I’ve been thinking about it a lot, why is it that women say the word sorry so much? What exactly are we apologizing for? Who or what ingrained us to feel that we needed to apologize for most of our actions or everyday situations?
One idea is this, “…the modern-day apology — at least when it comes to women at work — is rarely an apology at all. We’re not sorry to be asking a question, we’re simply trying to be polite. We’re trying to make a statement, a direct one, without being deemed “bossy” or “too aggressive.” Sorry is simply another way of downplaying our power, of softening what we do, to seem nice.”*
Essentially then, it’s a way for us to protect ourselves from being too assertive, aggressive, bossy or even direct. Yet I wonder if we said or did the same things without using the word sorry, would we actually come off that way? Would we be deemed bossy or aggressive? I think not.
“Women know they have to be likable to get ahead. Apologizing is one way to make yourself more accessible and less threatening,” says Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl. “Apologizing is one way of being deemed more likable.”*
So, if we’re not protecting ourselves from being too bossy or aggressive, we are hoping to be more likable. However, I wonder if it really comes off that way? Is the reaction that we get from people when we use the word sorry a “geez, that woman is so nice”? I don’t think so.
Here are some scenarios I want you to think about so you become more mindful and stop using the word sorry:
- You are walking and bump into someone, just say, “pardon me” or “excuse me” and be on your way.
- You were supposed to answer an email, a text or a phone call and it took you longer than you thought to get back to the person, just say “I would have responded sooner, but I was busy with X, Y, and Z”.
- You’re at work and something’s wrong with your computer. You message your IT department a couple of times with no one getting back to you. You take your computer and head straight to the department, in a way barging into their area hoping to get their attention right away. Just say, “I was hoping someone would have responded sooner, but they didn’t and I need this fixed ASAP,” and just smile. (This scenario happened recently to me and I used the word sorry, lesson for myself)
- You’re in a meeting and you’re hoping to get your point across in a very lively conversation, just raise your hand slightly and say, “I would just like to add…” and say your point.
- You’re in a restaurant and they just brought you your meal, but it’s a little on the cold side. Flag down your waiter and say, “I hope you don’t mind, but I would like this heated a bit.”
I can think of many other situations where you can use other words and phrases that allow you to say and do what you want without having to use sorry.
There is nothing inherently wrong with using the word sorry, but being women and using it so often for so many situations loses it’s true meaning. The true definition for sorry is this – feeling distress, especially through sympathy with someone else’s misfortune. When you say sorry for speaking up, or taking charge, or changing your mind, or trying to get your point across, or for trying to be assertive, then when you’re in a situation and someone is upset or feeling distressed about something, saying sorry just seems to lose its true meaning.
Let’s start developing a list of words and phrases we can use, here are a few:
I apologize for the delay, or for being late, etc.
Thank you for your patience
I hope you don’t mind, but…
If I may…
I appreciate your time or your work on this…
There truly are moments when sorry is the appropriate word to use, just not all the time. I realize we all want to be polite and not come off too aggressive or pushy, but at the same time we need to be respected and taken seriously for what we want and the decisions we make in this life. At one point we were declaring to ban the word bossy, I would much prefer banning the word sorry. It’s time we start becoming more mindful of the situations we are in and the words we choose, because the bottom line is we need to stop apologizing for being women.
Pantene created a brilliant ad last year to address the issue of women saying sorry, click here to check it out.
Amy Schumer also addresses the issue in a hilarious and provocative sketch on her new show “Inside Amy Schumer”. Watch here.
Why Women Apologize and Should Stop – NY Times