Do You Apologize Too Much?

Do women apologize too much? Do you often say "sorry" without thinking? Inspired by Pantene's "Not Sorry" commercial, The Public Speaker takes a deeper look at the "sorry" situation.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #259

We Say "Sorry" When We Mean “Excuse Me” or “That’s Too Bad"

Commenter Illene S. points out that we often say "sorry" when we really mean "excuse me"--like when we didn't hear what someone said and would like them to repeat it, when we might be interrupting someone mid-task, or when we need to get past someone in a tight space. (And I agree that saying "excuse me" is a matter of being polite!) Illene also notes that we use "sorry" as shorthand for, "I am sorry that happened to you," when expressing sympathy or condolences.

So, Do Women Need to Stop Apologizing?

Judging by all the online comments, the Pantene commercial raises an interesting question. From my personal experience, women do tend to apologize more than men.  I know that I have even said "sorry" to our coffee table when I bumped into it! An article on CNN backs this up with two research studies that show that men that are less likely to apologize for small things that inconvenience someone else.  

I also agree that apologizing too much weakens our image, and makes the words that follow seem less important. Think about:

Sorry, can I ask a stupid question?


I have a question about the data you just presented.

A friend of mine told me that when she first started working in the corporate world, she often felt stupid--and she made sure everyone around her knew it.  She'd say things like, “I know this is a dumb idea, but...”, or “Sorry, I’m sure I’m the only one who didn’t get that, but could you please repeat it?”

However, in time she realized that the quickest way to make people think you’re dumb is to keep telling them you are.

But Surely it's OK to Say "Sorry"...Sometimes?

I’m not suggesting the word "sorry" should be eliminated from our professional vocabulary completely. If you are perceived as being highly agentic at work, for example – meaning you are seen as a b**** or bully, or are described as "highly independent" or "assertive"--then using "sorry" occasionally could make you seem more conciliatory or more in touch with your employees and co-workers, and could help you create more trust.

In fact, one research study suggests that issuing a superfluous aplogy demonstrates empathic concern fo the receiver, and increases the receiver's trust in the apologizer. Sorry, maybe I should have shared that information from the start? 

Try this exercise for the next week. Each evening, replay the day’s conversations in your head. How many times did you say sorry? What were the circumstances? Did you really mean it? Could you find a more positive, confident way to say what you mean?

I'd love to hear from you on Twitter (@lisabmarshall), on Facebook, or in the comments. What do you think?  Do you need to stop apologizing? 

This is Lisa B. Marshall. helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business. If you want even more success in your life, I invite you to listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk:  Inspiring Conversations with Exceptional People.

Betterment LLC is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Brokerage services are offered by Betterment Securities, an SEC registered broker-dealer and member FINRA/SIPC. Investments are not FDIC Insured. No Bank Guarantee. May Lose Value. Investing in securities involves risks, and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities. Before investing, consider your investment objectives and Betterment's charges and expenses. Not an offer, solicitation of an offer, or advice to buy or sell securities in jurisdictions where Betterment and Betterment Securities are not registered.
Photo of Apologizing Woman and Concerned Woman courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.