Sorry…Not Sorry…

We say sorry a lot.  Maybe not all of us out there, but a lot of women say “I’m sorry”…a lot.

I am one of those women that used to say it all the time.  We say it for bumping into someone, when we don’t pass in a project on time, when the look on another person’s face shows we upset them…the list goes on.  I mean, how many things can we say “I’m sorry” for each day?  And how many times do we use that phrase and really mean it?

I still say that phrase from time to time, but more and more I catch myself.  I’ll tell you how I figured out I was using that word a lot and how I stopped myself, but before I do that I want to share a bit more on this dangerous phrase first.

As a woman, we try to people please.  A lot.  And that can mean doing or saying something that someone else might now like.  Now, this is a generality and it can go both way, but how many men do you see saying sorry on a regular basis?  Not many, I bet.  The thing is, being a people pleaser can be a good thing.  But overusing this phrase can be harmful.

Using this phrase too often can make us look like we’re vulnerable, like we are saying it just to say it and like we’re not confident.  I’ve experienced this first hand at work.  I said “I’m sorry” for messing up a situation at work, or so I thought.  And really did mean it.  The problem is, it made me look like I didn’t know how to do my job.  It was a hard reality check, but it’s the exact smack in the face I needed.  Thankfully, it came from someone I’m close to.  But using the phrase too often can be harmful if people are paying attention.

So how did I realize I was saying it too often and how did I fix it?  I listened to myself and made a conscious effort to pay attention to when I said the phrase and what was going on when I said it.  Having context surrounding my use of this phrase was helpful because then I could see if the use of the phrase even fit.  Learning how to fix it was a trickier process.  Which is why I’m going to give you a few tips for changing your behavior surrounding the phrase “I’m sorry”.

Tip #1 – Take a breathe

Before you even go to say the phrase, take a breathe.  Think about what’s happening, why you want to say the phrase and how it will be portrayed.  It’s a lot to think about in a split second, but our brains work fast so I’m sure you can do it.  Taking this breathe will let you gather your thoughts and then continue the conversation.

Tip #2 – Don’t apologize if you’re not really sure why you’re saying it

The majority of the time the phrase “I’m sorry” is used, it’s not even really necessary.  If you’re late to a luncheon with your friends, you don’t necessarily need to use the phrase.  They don’t know why you’re late and may not even be upset that you are.  Or if someone asks you to watch their kids but you can’t because you have plans, the phrase isn’t needed.  It’s not wrong that you already had plans, is it?  You didn’t do anything wrong.  If you’re not sure that using the phrase will fit, it probably doesn’t.

Tip #3 – Don’t say “I’m sorry” just to fill the gap

One thing I hate is that uncomfortable tension gap.  I used to fill that gap with some word or phrase just to cut the tension and make things ok again.  Filling the gap with the phrase “I’m sorry” doesn’t always make sense.  You may be saying it just to take up space and if that’s the case, the words have been wasted and do not really mean anything.

Now that you’ve read this, here’s my challenge for you.  Over the next week, take a note of how many times you say “I’m sorry”.

Is it less than 5?  Is it more than 10?  Is it more than 50?

And in what context are you saying it?  At work?  At home?  With your child’s day care provider?

This challenge is not to make you stressed or upset that you may or may not use the phrase often.  Rather, it’s to help you understand where you can improve.  It’s to help you understand the meaning of the phrase and how to use it better.  Report back and let’s see if we can get you to stop using the phrase “I’m sorry” when it doesn’t fit.  Go get ’em!

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