Often, in many conversations with women, I tend to notice small details. Whether we are in meetings or writing emails, or if someone didn’t manage to organize events in time, I notice how so many women apologize too much.
My coaching mentor, my colleagues, and my female friend do it so many times. Why and how often do we apologize?
Socialization or something else?
Research shows that women tend to say sorry more than men, which is partially the result of socialization. While young girls are raised to be polite, deferential, and studious, young boys are encouraged to be bold and more confident.
As adults, women perceive themselves as making more mistakes than men, having more to be sorry for. Excessively saying sorry when it is not necessary is a bad habit that can undermine one’s authority and hurt self-esteem.
Over-apologizing, a female trait?
There have been several studies conducted on the topic of women apologizing. One study by the University of Waterloo found that women tend to apologize more often because they have a lower threshold than men for what they consider offensive.
The researchers asked a question: why should psychologists care whether men apologize less frequently than women do? One answer is that apologies matter. They reduce anger and aggression and promote forgiveness and relationship well-being. Although apologies are not all-powerful, their general effectiveness suggests that gender differences in apology behavior could have significant implications for interpersonal interactions.
Research suggests that women may be more prone to over-apology than men. One set of studies conducted by Karina Schumann and Michael Ross found that female participants apologized more in their daily lives than male participants. They also found that women reported committing more offenses than men, and this difference fully accounted for the apology frequency finding. In other words, men apologized for the same proportion of the offenses they believed they had committed—they just didn’t report committing as many offenses.
Just not sorry – tips and tricks on how to not apologize
Tara Swart, neuroscientist, and author of the book The Source: Open Your Mind, Change Your Life, says serial apologists mostly do so out of habit, perhaps stemming from a childhood where they were made to feel wrong or fearful of punishment. According to Swart, “Apologising when we have done something wrong is a real strength, but compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.”
Swart suggested strategies to kick the apology habit, such as the first step of becoming more self-aware. It is important to notice how many times throughout the day we apologize. You can start a log for a week and write down each time you say the word “sorry”. We may be surprised how many times we use the word without even realizing it. We can also identify triggers like certain people or situations that may cause us to over-apologize.
We can begin checking our emails to see how often we use the word “sorry”. There is even a handy Gmail plug-in called Just not Sorry that warns us when we write emails using words that undermine our message.
Saying we’re sorry isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness. A well-placed apology can be powerful, but it is also essential to address the deeper reasons why we may be relying on apologies as a verbal crutch. With practice, we can find a clear way to express true meaning and feel more confident in our communication.
by Marija Lišanin