Human communication is a crazy thing. The entire planet has had thousands upon thousands of years to get it all right… And still we manage to say things we don’t mean, and other people pick up on things that were absolutely not our intention. You’d think we’d have it all figured out by now. Once you add in language barriers, the complexities of text-vs.-spoken-words, and of course body language, too, things start to get really complicated.
One of the most overused (and, often, misused) words in the English language is “sorry”. We all know that a “sorry” is supposed to be a sign of humility – something we say because we know we’ve screwed up. The word is supposed to make us feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, and – in theory – it should be really hard to say.
The only problem is… It’s not.
All too often, people use “sorry” as an icebreaker, a way to start a conversation with less pressure. I was one of those people for a painfully long time, actually. Eventually I learned that insincere apologies actually rob us blind – even if the effects aren’t clear from the start.
Here are a few of the things that over-apologizing takes away from you…
You lose your first impression.
We know how important first impressions are, and often we’ll sneak a “sorry” in there to take some of the pressure off. I’d like to professionally recommend that you stop doing that! When you say “sorry” to start a conversation with someone you’ve never spoken to before, you’re setting the other person up to pay extra attention to any flaws you may have. After all, you’ve already apologized for them, so they just know the flaws are there.
It might also give them a little insight into some other character flaws you’ve got going on – an experienced communicator will know which parts of your personality may have already been carved away. First impressions are so powerful because humans start picking up on subtle cues as soon as we meet a person. When those cues tell us that the person is a chronic over-apologizer, we know that they don’t have confidence, self-respect, or credibility – but we’ll get into that a little deeper later.
You lose your charm.
Starting a conversation with “sorry” instantly kills whatever magic might have been there. It sounds like you’re undecided, and when you’re trying to pick someone up, it makes it seem like maybe you lost a bet. Not really the best way to woo the ladies, am I right? (That was a trick question. I already know I’m right.) You might not feel like you’re undecided about pursuing her, but that’s how she’s going to take it.
More than just that, unnecessarily apologizing makes you less attractive, because it already implies that you’re not worthy of the other person’s time. You sound like you’re begging for their attention, which is not flattering – at all. It messes with other people’s perception of you and just ends up making you feel embarrassed.
You lose your confidence.
Human nature pushes us to continually improve ourselves, so when we’re not getting better at something, we have the urge to apologize for it. The only problem with this is, if you were already trying your best and you decide that your best wasn’t good enough, what does that mean? Apologizing for something that you put real effort into doesn’t make you sound modest – it makes you sound unconfident.
More than just that, we tend to apologize for mistakes we think we’re going to make – before we’ve even made them! That totally kills our focus when we’re in the moment, because we’re already thinking about what could go wrong instead of enjoying everything that is already going right. It sets a negative tone for your actions and words, and it makes other people more critical of you – which, in turn, kills your confidence even further.
You lose respect from others.
It probably goes without saying, but “sorry” is a very submissive word. It’s meant to convey the same message as when a dog tucks its tail and hangs its head – and, most likely, if you overuse your apologies, the people around you are going to start looking at you the same way that people look at sad dogs. The thing about sad dogs, however, is they aren’t guilty because someone else made them guilty.
All too often, we feel the need to preface our requests and demands with “sorry” to soften the blow. Really, when we’re doing this, we’re just making ourselves into scapegoats. We’re not really apologizing for our needs and boundaries – we’re apologizing for our boundaries being an inconvenience to others. It ends up coming across as if we’re begging to just be, and that’s not good. The balance between standing up for yourself and being disrespectful isn’t as thin as you might think.
You lose your value.
When other people stop treating you with respect, it gets really hard to treat yourself with respect. You start to undervalue yourself, and you start to sacrifice your self-esteem. Other people start picking up on your guilty conscience, and you start to feel guilty for things that literally have nothing to do with you. This makes it hard to be happy, because you’re constantly evaluating the negative parts of your life as a failure on your part.
While some failures may be your fault, often those types of failures are fixable. Most of the negative parts of our lives are things we can’t control, though, and it makes no sense to beat yourself up over something you have no control over. Unnecessary apologies destroy your value by holding you accountable for things you couldn’t possibly have prevented, and that’s not fair to you.
You lose your credibility.
Since you’ve started apologizing for things that have nothing to do with you, people won’t know how to tell when you’re genuinely sorry. This leads them to think you might be pacifying the situation with other things you say, too, and it gets harder to believe the things you say. Others have a hard time recognizing a true, sincere apology, so they simply assume all of your apologies (and everything else you say) are insincere.
When you apologize for things that you were involved with, but the problem didn’t actually have to do with you, you’re setting an idea that you’re to blame for what goes on around you – even if that’s not actually the case. Over time people will start to assume that you’re to blame anytime you’re in the area. You might notice that your responsibilities at work start to diminish, or your partner’s sharing with you less and less. This is a sign that people no longer have faith in you because you’re always apologizing.
You lose your identity.
Now that you’ve lost your confidence, your self-worth, and your number of responsibilities, you’re drastically falling away from everything that makes you a unique and special person. Your views are no longer important, because you’ve conditioned yourself to think that they’re probably wrong anyway. In turn, you don’t volunteer your ideas anymore, and instead you go along with something someone else has put out there.
But you’re giving up the things that make you truly unique. Your ideas, your self-worth, and the things you do for yourself and others are what make you you – no one else can fill your shoes! When you keep those opinions and skills to yourself, you’re destroying your individuality, bit by bit. If you let this go on for too long, you’ll lose your whole personality!
You lose your relationships.
We often think of apologizing as a way to hang onto a relationship, right? But when you over-apologize, you actually accomplish quite the opposite. When “sorry” is used as a filler word, its intention is to avoid a discussion. You’re not trying to work through a problem – you’re just agreeing with your partner so that you can get it over with. This isn’t healthy.
Relationships thrive on communication, and you can’t have a lasting relationship with someone if you aren’t communicating. Burying your problems makes them grow, and offering an empty “sorry” instead of a sincere apology won’t make you a better person. It’s your actions that matter.
You can even lose your insurance.
We’ve already discussed how over-apologizing can affect your relationships, your friendships, and your career, but in some cases, you can even lose your insurance coverage for apologizing. In a car accident, for example, saying “I’m sorry” to the other person, any witnesses, or even local law enforcement is seen as admitting that you’re guilty. If you’re determined to be at fault, you’ll need to pay for medical bills, damages, and probably a rate hike from your insurance company, too.
The thing is… There are professionals who evaluate an accident to see who was at fault, and there might be information you didn’t know about at the time. Maybe the other driver had been drinking, or they weren’t legally allowed to drive. If one of these issues is in place, they may be determined at fault – but not if you admit fault first and take away the need for the investigation. It’s always better to work through the issue before you apologize for it.