I’m Sorry to Say This but We Need to Stop Saying I’m Sorry

I’m Sorry to Say this but We Need to Stop Saying I’m SorryPlease welcome back guest writer and attorney, Christen Morgan, to talk about the ways that women find themselves apologizing more than they need to in the workplace and knowing when to really say I’m sorry.

If you walk through the halls of many office environments, you can almost count on hearing the buzz and the ding of all the office machinery and stationery. If you listen even closer, you’re bound to hear the clicks and the clacks of shoes tapping through the hallways and the whirrs and creeks of portable chairs and office doors. Amongst all these familiar sounds, it maybe difficult to make out the defined statements within the conversations of passersby. However, pay close enough attention to these conversations and I’m sure the words “I’m sorry,” will emerge as a frequent repeated utterance. Whether, it’s an apologetic employee who is sorry for messing up an assignment, a supervisor who’s sorry for sending out the email request that she had every intention to send or the nervous intern who’s sorry for spilling coffee on the floor in the mere presence of others, “I’m sorry”, is the uniform verbal tick of many human beings. Furthermore, and, I hate to say this, but the words I’m sorry are even more of a verbal tick for women.

As women, it’s almost second nature to apologize. In fact, several findings have concluded that women apologize far more than men. But why is that? Some researchers have found that women apologize out of a need to sympathize, whereas men are more focused on maintaining a power balance. Other researchers have found that men have a higher threshold than women for offensive behavior and as a result women find a need to apologize for everything up to and possibly including our very existence. As a chronic apologizer myself, I completely understand the need to want to apologize to avoid appearing offensive, but is this triggering habit hurting or helping us? I would argue that apologizing isn’t hurtful in and of itself, as it means that we are socially aware of negative behaviors that can come across as offensive, and in some situations, an apology is the only thing that can lessen the blow. However, constant apologizing can be extremely hurtful, especially in professional settings. Apologizing can make us appear less confident and more inferior, two qualities which by no means serve us well, especially in the legal profession which is already a male dominated career. So how do we strike the balance of recognizing when to apologize versus when to let things go? How about:

1. Consider Context

An apology isn’t necessary in every single situation in which an offensive or prospectively offensive act takes place. Therefore, considering the context of a situation that would naturally trigger an apology is important. Sometimes as women we feel the need to apologize for the offensive acts of others. This may not be necessary in every context, especially when you have no control over the perpetrator’s acts. We may also sometimes see the need to apologize when something generally bad happens that could have been offensive had it impacted someone else, but that isn’t offensive at all because it had no true impact on another party. For example, a coffee spill that affected no one and only impacted the marble tiles of the break room, or speaking up in a team meeting to get your voice heard when you’re consistently drowned out by others. Simply put, if the context does not involve a truly offensive act which can negatively impact another person, the words, “I’m sorry,” are not really necessary.

2. Being More Confident

Sometimes putting on a cloak of confidence before beginning your work day, is all you need to avoid using the words,“I’m sorry.” When I coached moot court in law school, I would always tell my competitors that being confident is half the battle in delivering a successful oral argument. If you appear confident, this helps to develop your credibility, as people immediately want to believe every single word that comes out of your mouth. If you view yourself as a credible individual, then there is even less of a reason to second guess yourself and constantly default to apologizing. When you wake up in the morning, during your drive to work and even when sitting in your cubicle/office, remind yourself that you are brilliant, that you deserve to be in that office just as much as any other employee and that if you weren’t meant to be there, you would never have received the job in the first place. Use those moments to re-state this mantra and build your confidence throughout the day. The more confident you become, the less likely you are to depend on an apology as a crutch.

3. Creating a New Verbal Tick

Finally, how about substituting the term “I’m sorry” for a more positive phrase? At the end of the day, the term I’m sorry has essentially become a verbal tick that we constantly use and abuse out of context. Now, I’m definitely not a proponent of developing verbal ticks to rely on in conversation. However, creating a new positive verbal tick may be far more effective in conversation instead of  saying I’m sorry. Some authors have suggested using the term, “thank you” instead of apologizing. For example: “thank you for understanding why I needed to reschedule this meeting,” instead of saying, “I’m sorry for rescheduling.” In the alternative, how about saying nothing at all? We often insert “I’m sorry” as a blanket phrase into conversation to fill a void, but how about embracing the silent pause instead? I know it may seem awkward at first but if you’ve truly considered the context and recognized that I’m sorry isn’t necessary, avoiding the term would definitely bolster your newfound confident image.

Striking the balance of when to use “I’m sorry” won’t be easy, especially considering that we are attempting to change a learned behavior that we have been perfecting since the day we could process social cues. However, if we set making this balance as our clear intention, it’s possible that we could make some strides towards applying these changes towards our daily conversations.


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About Christen Morgan

Christen Morgan graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tampa where she received her B.S. in Criminology. She earned her J.D. from Emory Law School where she competed and served as an executive board member for the Emory Law Moot Court Society. Christen also served as a student representative for LexisNexis and also as a mentor for several 1L students offering them advice and a variety of resources to help them through their law school journey.

Christen previously practiced as a Foreclosure Attorney for a Real Estate law firm but has since then transitioned into a Real Estate Specialist role at a wireless infrastructure company.

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