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  • Natalie Schiebener

Powerful Questions Podcast: What are you apologizing for?




First, I am not against sincerely apologizing if you are really in the wrong. Absolutely not. It is important to say sorry if you have done something wrong, it shows compassion and can build trust with others. It shows people that you are kind, caring, and sensitive.


However, sometines we apologize for things that we have no control over or that are not our fault. It might seem harmless, but the underlying beliefs that you create within yourself through over-apologising are not so harmless. And the impression that you create with others might also not be the best. After all, there is no smoke without fire, so if you apologize all the time, people might thing you make mistakes all the time.


There might be a number of reasons you are over-apologising. Research shows that such behavior is often a result of shame rather that guilt. Just to remind you: Guilt is feeling bad because you did something wrong. Shame is feeling bad because you think there is something wrong with you as a person.


Women tend to apologize more than men. Apparently, it is the result of social conditioning we are all influenced by, so it is good to know that and try to be aware if this is the case with you. Also oberve, for example, if you are apologizing more that your male colleagues.


So how much is too much?


  • If you apologize for the things that are not your fault, like "Sorry, I am all wet because of the rain"

  • If you apologize a lot for small, trivial things that are not as important and can be corrected easily, like "Sorry, I forgot to bring the sugar"

  • Saying "sorry" is sometimes used as a way to make a statement without coming across as bossy or aggressive.


I want to share with you a great idea that has changed my approach to apologizing. What I noticed in myself, is that I often apologize in casual social situations where it feels appropriate to say something. Like being 1 minute late for a meeting. It's not the end of the world, and nobody really missed you anyway in this one minute, and people just started their small talk... But when you come in, you feel compelled to say something, and "sorry, I'm a bit late" seems appropriate. And what I learned is to replace the word "sorry" with the word "thank you". "Thank you for waiting" instead of "Sorry, I am late". And think about it – it probably even makes other people feel better. They must have done something right if you are thanking them!


So the next time you want to say sorry, stop yourself and think: could you say thank you instead?


  • Instead of "Sorry you had to do this task" – you can say "I am so grateful you have helped me with this"

  • Instead of "Sorry to bother you with such basic questions" – you can say "Thank you for hepling me understand this"

  • Instead of "Sorry i did not wash the dishes and you had to do it" – you can say "Thank you for taking care of the dishes"


If you are not yet able to notice all the times that you are apologizing, try to just observe yourself first. Each time you notice yourself apologizing, write it down. Of course it might look silly to run around with a notebook all the time and write things down, but you can use your phone and make notes there, or try to remember each evening in which situations you aplogized that day.


After observing yourself for some time and paying attention when you say sorry, it will eventually become easier to notice when you are just intending to say sorry and stop yourself before you do it. It will take time to train yourself, but it is really worth it.


With time, you might also understand what are the underlying reasons for you over-apologizing. Is it about seeking approval by other people? Are you trying to avoid conflict? Also consider who you apologize to most often. Is there a relationship in your life where this dynamic comes out, but not with other people?


Think about it, and become aware of what you are apologizing for!

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