How To Stop Saying Sorry

Posted by PR Neom, Jun 02, 2021

How To Stop Saying Sorry

"Sorry I'm late", "Sorry I haven't replied sooner", "Sorry I missed you", "Sorry I can't make it..." - the list of apologies we reel off during any given day is endless

It’s become so much of a reflex that you probably say sorry more than you say your please or thank you’s. In fact, we’re so addicted that it’s become more of a throwaway excuse than a heartfelt apology. “People don’t really notice how often they apologise,” says Sean O’Meara, co-author of the new book, The Apology Impulse which looks at why we say sorry and how to catch yourself and stop yourself from over apologising. “When we were writing the book I started paying really close attention to how often people apologised to me – it was a lot! From the server in the fast food restaurant apologising ‘for the wait’ to someone on a tram platform who said – ‘sorry, do you know if this tram goes to the airport?’, the word becomes a social lubricant as much as a means of expressing regret,” he says.

We’re well known for being a nation addicted to apologies. A bit like queuing, it might be a case of being polite but in reality we risk devaluing the word if we keep using it for everything warns Sean. And know this – women are the biggest offenders, with some studies showing there is a difference between the sexes. “The most common reason is that women are simply better at assessing their own behaviour,” he says.

You only have to Google ‘how to email like a man’ and you’ll be greeted with advice on avoiding the guilt factor of not clearing your inbox immediately. It’ll also flag ‘permission’ words women are prone to using like ‘just’, ‘I feel’ and ‘I think’ (check your sent items and you’ll soon see what we mean). But can you curb your apology addiction? Sean thinks so. “You can still apologise but at times when you genuinely believe you’ve messed up – the trick is to acknowledge the failure, identify how it impacts the victim, explain how you’re going to fix it, then (and only then), ask for forgiveness. Often all people want is an explanation or empathy without necessarily hearing the word sorry.”

Give it a go and you might feel more motivated and in control. Re-read the opening lines of your emails and texts and if you’re simply apologising for a time delay or because you can’t attend, flip reverse it. Everyone is time poor and if the shoe was on the other foot, would you really be demanding a sorry? Probably not. “There’s an ‘apologise first, ask questions later’ mentality so if our first response to criticism is to take a moment to assess our accountability it enables us to be more mindful of our behaviour and so preserve the integrity of sorry,” advises Sean.

Obviously it’s easier said than done in times of conflict as it’s the quickest way to de-escalate a stressful situation, but just like deep breaths can help with reducing those feelings of anxiety, so too can time out. A moment of reflection can avoid sorry’s being fired out like bullets. Think about how you really feel too – if you don’t feel genuinely sorry, don’t say it just because someone is demanding or expecting it. “Often people demand apologies in order to humiliate other people – you see it a lot on social media.”

As with everything, social media has fuelled the fire, especially when it comes to corporate reactions too. Whereas before they would apologise if our rights were affected – cancelled flights/faulty goods etc – now they have to apologise for hurting our feelings as we’ve become a society that will wax lyrical on issues via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. “Corporations have made themselves responsible for protecting our feelings,” explains Sean. While it’s great we have freedom of speech and an outlet for getting a response without having to wait weeks for letters to exchange hands between company and customer, it links back to our apology addictions. Yes, it might harp back to an ingrained survival tactic but a late email or genuine accident shouldn’t trigger a do or die response so next time you go to say the ‘s’ word, think twice. Practise makes perfect but eliminate the guilt factor and all of a sudden you could feel more productive, assertive and positive. If NEOM did New Year’s Resolution (which we don’t) - this could be one of them, right?