Sorry, Charlie: How Apologizing Can Actually Hold You Back

There’s something I’ve been noticing a lot lately, in person and in comments: Opening a statement of opinion with an apology. “I’m sorry, but….” I’ve seen it happening equally with both men and women.

I know some folks have goals of wanting to be more assertive and confident. Start with being mindful of the language you use, both in speaking and verbally. I encourage you to let go of the need to apologize for your thoughts and opinions. They are yours, they belong to you, and if someone takes offense, there’s still no need to apologize.

Opening your thoughts or opinions with an apology weakens your position.

“I’m sorry, but your continual lateness is interfering with my ability to attend to the rest of my day.”

When stated like this, what you’re doing is essentially saying that you’re perhaps in the wrong for drawing a personal boundary and that it’s actually still okay for the person to continue their behavior.

“I’m sorry, but how this company treated their customers was terrible.”

This implies that your opinion is perhaps wrong and inferior. You’re also making the assumption that you need to apologize for how someone may choose take your opinion. But you are no more responsible for how someone chooses to react or take offense than I am for how you choose to take my opinions. The most I can be responsible for is how I state them.

Opening your thoughts or opinions with an apology can also sometimes come across as (unintentionally) aggressive or confrontational. Apologizing

“I’m sorry, but you’re wrong!”

Maybe you are. But we’ve all been in situations where someone has made a statement like this. How did you feel? Did you feel like you’d been presented with a tactfully-made statement? Or did you feel insulted?

Mindfulness around  how you state your thoughts and opinions is needed, whether in a comment or in person. There’s no need to essentially open your opinion in an unnecessarily subservient manner and like you’re not worth of holding your own thoughts and personal opinions. And, on the opposite side of that, tact is also important. And tact doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weak or weakening your position. Tact simply means being diplomatic in how you make your statement. Using delicacy and discretion.

I know someone who is very intelligent, has terrific and insightful viewpoints, but generally has almost zero tact in how he states things. He means well, and I know he’s truly coming from the heart…but because he makes his statements so forcefully, they lose their intended impact.

The only time opening with I’m sorry” doesn’t come across as either overly-humble or overly-aggressive is when you’re making a statement of sympathy. “I’m so sorry to hear that!”

Of course, there may be times when you might need to say, “That wasn’t my intent to have it sound that way. Allow me to rephrase.” This still isn’t an apology per se. Since you can’t anticipate how someone will filter your words or actions, there will be times when a misunderstanding happens.

And sometimes it’s a case of someone simply mishearing what you said.

There are times when an apology is needed, of course.

However, sometimes an apology, even in the face of what’s perceived as a huge personal transgression, still isn’t needed.

One example is when someone demands an apology from you because they’ve been humiliated by their own behavior.

When this happens, they’re trying to make you responsible for their mortification and choice of misconduct. In reality, you merely became a mirror, reflecting back to them their horrible behavior. This is a case of the other person refusing to take personal responsibility. (Like when a mugger sues their victim when the victim fights back and breaks the mugger’s nose. )

Nor are you responsible for the behavior of others that created a situation where you were fully unable to avoid stepping on someone’s toes. Perhaps literally so.

I had a client who had a habit of apologizing all the time. For everything. Even for something she was unaware of until it was broght to her attention. For example, she went to a friend’s house for the first time, and upon entering, the friend said, “Could you please do me a favor and take off your shoes?” My client’s immediate response was to say, “I’m sorry!” before shucking her shoes.

(She was also prone to leaving notes on the windshields of cars she parked next to, apologizing for parking so close when she had no choice as the car on the other side was the cause.)

Essentially, she was addicted to apologizing. It’s one of the off-shoots of focusing too much on people-pleasing.

It’s good to be conscientious and mindful. But, as shown in the two examples above, you are not responsible for the behavior of others, and that conscientiousness can get out of hand.

However, there are times, when I have (and do) apologize when there isn’t a need. There’s an intuition to those moments, just as there can be to ones when one isn’t needed. But until there’s awareness of the frequency we apply apologies, how and when and why, we can’t develop that sense.

Mindfulness of how often you apologize for things that don’t need an apology will make it so that, when one is needed, its impact is stronger and more meaningful.

And that’s nothing to be sorry for.

Questions? Comments? Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum. apologizing apologizing apologizing apologizing apologizing apologizing  apologizing apologizing apologizing

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