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
Episode #318

This can be seen so clearly in Proctor & Gamble’s Pantene commercial, titled Not Sorry. (If you haven't see the video, you really need to click the link.) The situations are all so familiar: a woman apologizes for asking a question in a meeting. Or she apologizes for entering a colleague’s office. She apologizes when a man sits down next to her and bumps her arm. The funniest part in the video is when a woman moves out of the way for a man, apologizes to him, bumps the woman next to her, who bumps the next woman, and all three of them are apologizing! Funny, but true. As a woman, I can assure you I have done those very things. Did I feel I was doing something wrong by asking a question in the meeting? Well, maybe I felt I was interrupting. How dare I! But seriously, why would I apologize because someone else bumped into me? And yet I have. So it seems there is another reason for apologizing, as I mentioned in the beginning: a trained response in females to take a submissive role. As the mother of daughters, I hear this as a warning to bring them up polite, but not submissive. 

This weekend, my family and I spent a few days with my sister and she mentioned to me, "Have you noticed that both Ariana and Daniela apologize for everything, even little things." I was embarrassed. I had noticed, but I simply chalked the extra "I'm sorry's" up to the fact that they are identical twins and fight more than most siblings simply because they spend so much time together. But I realize now I'll need to talk to them about how to stop this habit of over-apologizing.   

How Do We Overcome the Habit?

Beverly Engel, psychotherapist and author of The Power of Apology, gives this advice: First, recognize you have a problem. Next, pay attention to how many times you catch yourself apologizing. Then tell yourself, "I'm only going to apologize once." If you feel you're about to apologize again, count to three. That should stop it.

But there's another issue to address: apologizing when there is no need. Did you do something wrong? Did you hurt someone? Is this issue your fault? Before you start to say you’re sorry, ask yourself these questions. If the answer is no, don't apologize!

A more serious reason behind over-apologizing is a history of abuse. Unfortunately, victims of abuse become convinced that they are at fault, that somehow they deserve to be abused for what they did. Of course, that's never true. No one deserves to be abused, no matter what. But the victim doesn't see it that way. When over-apologizing is caused by such a history, it's best to get some professional help to heal the underlying issues, not just the habit.

This is Lisa B. Marshall helping you to lead and influence.  If you'd like to learn more about compelling communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview, and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business


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.

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