I have been over apologizing for the last month or so. I’ve been apologizing so much that I think I might even apologize for the weather or the stock market at this point. I have had both my daughter, Natalie, and my boyfriend, Roy, admonish me for saying “sorry” wayyyyyy too much. I was on the phone with Natalie last week and she flat out said, “Stop saying sorry.” To which I responded, of course, “Sorry.” As I sit here and reflect on my sorry-a-thon over the last few weeks, I think it’s directly attributable to my dad’s health being in decline and I’m coming to grips with it all. This has caused me to cry and, in turn, apologize for crying. I’ve been feeling the feels and it’s hard being in that space for me.
The other cause for my sorry-paloza is my feeling of being overwhelmed or, perhaps, it really is feeling a lack of control. As I sit here writing, I am at the top of Amicalola Falls in northern Georgia, waiting for Roy to start his epic through-hike of the Appalachian Trail for five to six months (2190 miles…EPIC!). Anything that has not gone as planned has caused me to apologize. The coffee is cold, the hotel room is full of lady bugs, I can’t find a pen, I can’t find a signal for my GPS app — you name it, I’ve apologized for it. My best friend is headed out on the trail for the foreseeable future, my dad is declining faster than I want and, did I mention, my son is in Nicaragua. Perhaps all the apologizing is to make me feel like I’m in control or my life is not out of control. As if I am responsible, but I cannot be responsible for any of it. All my sorry-ing is about me believing I am in control, when I really just need to let go.
Here are some tips on how to let go of the Sorry Habit:
First, you have to acknowledge you’ve got a problem with over-apologizing. I’m lucky that I have Natalie and Roy to point it out. There are plenty of people out there who would not bother to point out that you are over-apologizing. I grant you, it is annoying to be around an over-apologizer, but it also creates an illusion to the receiver of the apology that they are not responsible. “Hmmm, I wonder where Cathy is so that she can apologize for this report not being complete or the temperature of the room being too cold.” I think back to my last apologizing spree and it was all around the reconstruction of my home after Hurricane Matthew. There wasn’t a cabinet, paint color or plumbing delay that I didn’t apologize for. It’s like any habit. You have to notice it first or have someone point it out. Acknowledging is the first step. You can’t try and fix what you are not aware of.
This is the fastest way to turn an apology into gratitude and let the receiver feel appreciated. In the case of crying to Natalie, I could say, “Thank you for listening,” instead of “I’m sorry I’m crying.” The thank you lands so much better than the apology. Instead of “I’m sorry for being late,” it’s “Thank you for waiting.” As Anisa Horton wrote for Fast Company, “The rationale between replacing ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you,’ is that by apologizing, she started the interaction in a negative tone, causing her to feel like she needed to spend the rest of the conversation ‘recovering from [her] faux pas.’” On the other hand, saying “Thank you” allowed her to recover from her blunder more quickly. Sorry leaves you in a negative space. A diminished space. Thank you creates a positive instead.
I’ve heard this advice for any problem you bring to your boss. If you bring a problem, bring a solution or two as well. Instead of, “I’m sorry the report isn’t complete,” instead say, “The report is incomplete, I can turn it in today incomplete or wait to have it to the committee with the West region’s numbers on Friday.” I apologized to Roy yesterday for not having a pen on me. I could have said, “I have a pen in my purse if you can wait until we are back in the hotel room.” No need for an apology; provide a solution instead.
Accept silence. Be with silence. You don’t need to fill the space in a conversation with an apology. Giving space for silence helps me remember to “not apologize.” Take a breath. As Horton wrote, “Sometimes, the best thing is not to say anything at all. A good example of this is in a negotiation–where those with the tendency to over-apologize might start an argument with, ‘Sorry, but – ,’ unintentionally diminishing their power. Training yourself to pause and allow some silence is a much more effective tool, even if it feels uncomfortable.” The rub for me is the feeling of discomfort. I think the space, the silence or the pause makes the difference between reacting and responding. My apologizing is a reaction, instead of a response. Embrace the silence.
My unapologizing is a work in progress. I am not perfect and never will be. The biggest insight for me is that my sorry-ing is related to my lack of control. The only thing I have control over is me and saying sorry is not creating any more control in my world. If anything, it is diminishing my sense of wellbeing. I feel weakened by my constant falling on the sword. Do you over-apologize?