How to Stop Over-Apologizing

Do you find yourself apologizing frequently, even when something is not your fault? Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker, will explain why, and will help you overcome the habit.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #318

Does the following scenario describe you? You're in a meeting and you have a question, but you start with, "Sorry to interrupt ..." Or you're indecisive about what you want on the lunch menu, so you apologize for taking so long. Or maybe someone sits down next to you and puts his arm on the arm rest that you’re already using, so you apologize and move. Or, perhaps my personal favorite, you bump into a chair or a desk and then say, "Oh, I'm sorry!" If you can relate to any of these situations, you probably apologize too much.

You may protest. Isn't apologizing a good thing? Yes! But only when you have committed some offense in a relationship that needs healing. When you apologize even though you've done nothing wrong, or you apologize repeatedly for a small offense, you send a message: you subconsciously tell your listener you're insecure, unsure, overly-sensitive, or submissive. It's funny—I've been talking with my daughters about this. They say, "Oh, sorry mom..." several times a day. It drives me crazy. Then this weekend, I heard a story (Enjoy the Suffering) on The Truth podcast, and one of the characters says to her sister, "No, don't say your're sorry. Saying sorry is just a way of tacitly admitting that you're not going to change but still giving yourself the credit for having good intentions. Don't forget that."  And her sister responds, "You're right. I'm sorry!"  

Exactly! I thought that was perfect. 

These are not the kind of impressions we want to communicate. So habitually saying sorry is something that needs to be overcome, but as with overcoming any habit, we need to first know why we do it.

Why Do We Over-Apologize? 

It could be as simple as good parenting. Were you taught to take responsibility for your actions? Were you taught that saying you’re sorry is polite? Then you had good parents! However, some people feel the need to take responsibility for things that are out of their control, while others think they sound polite by constantly apologizing. But there's usually more to it than just this. 

A study published in Psychological Science examined the common perception that women apologize more than men. In this study, male and female participants kept a log of offenses that they perceived they had committed, and whether or not they apologized. They also kept a list of offenses they perceived others had committed. Consistent with our real-world experiences, women apologized more often than men. But why? Here was the interesting thing: Women actually perceived they had committed more offenses than men did, and they perceived others committed more offenses toward them. Big surprise—men are less sensitive to perceived offense than women are, so they apologize less often. But statistically, men apologized as frequently as women, when they thought they had done something wrong. They just didn't see it as often as women did.


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.