An excerpt from a recent (real life) conversation:

“I’m sorry-  I didn’t mean to bother you”

Stop apologizing!

oh you’re right… sorry.”

I’m not going to bore you with the psychology behind what makes people apologize for small daily actions. Or the anthropological research that explains why American and Japanese apologize more than other countries, or list data arguing that women apologize more than men, or men more than women.

That sounds exhausting.

It’s obvious that for whatever reason, we apologize too often for things that we have no reason to be sorry for.

  • Why are you sorry that you bumped my arm on a crowded bus? Clearly that stroller hit you first.
  • Why are you apologizing for arriving at a meeting 5 minutes late? Parking’s a bitch yo.
  • Why are you apologizing for crying during a health coaching session? You had a major breakthrough! I’d be pissed if you didn’t cry.

Saying sorry as a verbal reaction or a mindless filler, devalues the act of Apologizing. There is a time and place for saying you’re sorry. I want to make sure that when those moments come up (hopefully not too often) it is received as genuine and thoughtful and MEANS something to the person I’ve hurt.

My perspective on this changed a few months ago when I apologized to my sister for saying something truly hurtful that I didn’t need to. I had overstepped a boundary and added insult to injury in a moment where she already knew her faults and needed a shoulder to cry on, not a sassy sister.

I apologized from the absolute bottom of my heart and I thought it would change everything. But she barely looked at me, and said yeahyeah and kept talking about something else. I stopped her and tried to apologize again, more adamantly and with conviction (my high school drama teacher would have been proud). She brushed it off and as an aside said, “I know, I know, you just say that all the time”.

Which was true. I slide “I’m sorry, into any crack in conversation or in places where it’s unnecessary.

“oops-excuse me-i’m sorry.” I said this 15 times today. I counted.

And it’s not just me. I hear it everywhere I go. I hear it from everyone I run into. It’s a part of every conversation.

And of course, like most problems with our society, I blame the media. But seriously! Our media runs constantly looping 30 second snippets of celebrities and politicians apologizing for {getting caught} doing things that they aren’t actually sorry they did.

Have we become completely desensitized to apologies?

A recent study showed that we actually value the intention of an apology more than the apology itself.

Researchers looked at people’s beliefs about the influence of an apology and their actual reaction to apologies in a simple situation.

Participants came to the lab and played a trust game with another player (who was actually an experimenter).  In the trust game, participants are given money (say $10), and are told that if they give it to their partner, the experimenter will triple the money (turning it into $30).  The partner can then share as much of it back with the original partner as possible.  The outcome that most people think is fair is if they give the $10 to their partner, and then the partner returns half of the total back so that everyone ends up with $15.

In these studies, 90% of the participants elected to give the $10 to their partner.  The partner then returned only $5.  At that point, half the participants were asked to imagine how they would feel if the partner apologized for being unfair.  The other half received an apology from the partner and were asked how they would feel.

Those who imagined getting an apology said they would feel much better than those who actually received an apology.  A followup study showed that people who received an apology also trusted their partner less in the future than they thought they would when they imagined receiving an apology.

What the fuck is wrong with us?

Really? An imaginary apology is worth more than a real one?

Wow. just wow.

The Apology should be powerful and emotion driven. 

I am going to re-invigorate the power of the apology.

That starts with:

  • Not overusing the words “I’m sorry” in absent-minded daily use
  • Being more aware of the situations where {I’m being a bitch} an apology is necessary
  • Acknowledging that my words have power for good and evil.
  • Promise to only use them for awesome.


Who’s with me?