Have you ever stopped to keep track of how many times the word “sorry” seeps into your vocabulary - and why? Follow along with Sarah Lochelt as she digs through our tendency to over-apologize.
By Sarah Rose Lochelt
In my workplace I often observe female colleagues enter rooms with a soft knock and a quiet inquiry, “Sorry, do you have a minute?” I am reminded of how strange this sounds when our male Vice President comes around, and his kind but confident demeanor seems abrasive in comparison. What would our office environment be like if we as women didn’t feel the need to apologize for our presence?
I also observe this behavior in the classroom. As women we preface our comments or questions with an apology. We raise our hand and say, “Sorry, you may have already answered this, but…” or “Sorry, I’m not sure I understand…” or “Sorry, can I ask a question?”
Last week, I installed a new plug-in for Gmail called “Just Not Sorry” on my work computer. This app draws a little red line, like the spell-check line, under “undermining words,” such as “sorry.” It’s helped me to see how often I use apologetic words in my day-to-day emails, particularly as a professional. I was shocked at how many times I had to go back and replace a word that made my statement seem like a question or my idea sound like an apology.
It astounds me that the recommendation not to apologize is such a common, necessary direction for me and for so many friends. Even the mention of over-apologizing brings groans and sighs from my friends, as so many recognize its prevalence in our everyday language of choice (or habit).
One oft-cited study, “Why Women Apologize More Than Men” concluded, “We found support for the common stereotype that women apologize more frequently than men do. However ... we found that men were no less willing than women were to apologize for their behavior once they categorized it as offensive ... men apologize less frequently than women do because they have higher thresholds for what constitutes offensive behavior.” The issue, it seems, isn’t that as women we apologize more easily. Instead, it is that as women, we intrinsically believe that we have more to apologize for.
Over-apologizing is a symptom of feelings of shame. This shame has devastating effects on each of us as individuals and on our community as Christians. The impact goes beyond those of us who experience shame and apologize for existing. It creates obstacles and static in all kinds of relationships, and interferes with the way we are called to love one another.
When my first instinct is to apologize, I have decided to start asking myself what I’m actually apologizing for. Would I be saying “sorry” because I have genuinely hurt someone or made a mistake? That’s the appropriate place for an apology. But, if I am saying “sorry” because I exist, have flaws, or have voiced an opinion, then I will be saying “Sorry, not sorry” instead. I hope that #sorryNOTsorry attitude and understanding will set the example for the women in my work, school, and home communities, as well.
Sarah Rose Lochelt is a Southern-California native who is passionate about the power of communication and the connection that happens through conversation, especially alongside coffee. She writes and speaks about the lies of shame, the truth of grace, and the freedom that comes from relating authentically to one another, especially for women in the church. Sarah has degrees in youth ministry, counseling ministry, and is working on one in English. She always has at least one book to read in her purse, is infamous for making silly faces at babies in public, and could live on pizza for every meal. You can find her blog at https://sarahlochelt.wordpress.com/blog/.
Watch this short video illustrating how women
can speak up for themselves without apologizing!