How to stop over-apologizing

by | Jan 1, 2016

What causes over-apologizing and why we should stop

Does anyone else think it's weird that we needed a shampoo advert to show women what we should already have been aware of? Over-apologizing happens all the time for us. The Pantene You Tube video has been doing the rounds for over a year now. It successfully highlighted how many women, myself included, apologize constantly, for no apparent reason.  These apologies seem to be subliminally linked to our perception of good manners and correctness and also as an automatic way of defusing tension.

Woman at a meeting: "I'm sorry - do you mind if I finish?"

Keynote speaker and conference organiser opening remarks: "I'm sorry, I need to refer to my notes"

Gender ambassador: "I'm sorry, this may seem like a stupid question"

Women tend to feel uncomfortable if they are anything but affirmativly supportive to others.  Comedian and writer Amy Schumer suggested “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.”

These apologies are used in no-fault situations. They are frequently done to make the speaker seem more conciliatory and collaborative. They are superfluous to requirements, blur and even disguise the real message. Depending on the tone of voice used, "I'm sorry," when laden with sarcasm, is passive aggression at its worst.  Over-apologizing takes up prime communication real estate, with unnecessary verbiage and diminishes the impact of our contribution.

So what makes women do this and how can they break this habit of indirect and passive communication?

There could be deep and significant subconscious reasons related to low self-esteem and a desire to please everyone, all the time. The prefixes could also be self-programmed, reflexive responses, like self-placating mannerisms such as playing with our hair or a nervous cough.

You don’t need to know what causes something to change it.

  • Become aware of when you are over-apologizing  - in what sort of situations do they occur? Is there a pattern? Read: 10 easy ways to develop communication skills  Do you have anything to apologise for?
  • Reframe your superfluous language and remove the "sorry's." That's right take them out.
  • Be ready for some gender blow-back at your new more assertive self. Read: Assertive communication, 9 tips to avoid being labelled a bitch  Women are caught up in the double bind of negative reaction when these conciliatory plactors are removed from our communication patterns.

New language

Woman at a meeting: "Let me finish"

Keynote speaker and conference organiser opening remarks: "Welcome everyone"

Gender ambassador: "I have a question"

Apologizing can be necessary

There are clearly situations where responsibility has to be taken and a genuine apology issued. These will be at times when there is a real problem, issue or fault. If you have caused an accident, personal injury or other damage. Apologize.

You should not apologize for taking up someone's time,  pursuing a workplace enquiry or wanting to speak in a meeting.

It's a sad thing that it's taken a shampoo commercial to make us realize how bad this is for us and that we need to stop.

Learn how to create an effective success story!  Knowing what you are good at it a good step to avoid over-apologizing.  Join Dorothy Dalton for a  15 minute online coaching session Details HERE.

Staff Writer: Career Contributor
3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

Found that interesting?
Learn more about our services

Individual services

Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.

Corporate services

The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)

Upcoming events

Book Now

There are no upcoming Events at this time.

Dates for the Diary


23rd April 2019 at 1800 Podcast with Virgina Franco Executive Storyteller, Resume & LinkedIn Writer

25th April 2019 at 1800 EVE Programme, an initiative of Danone. Twitter Chat “Harnessing Positive Psychology for a Smarter Leadership"


Download and listen free podcasts

Related articles

3 interview traps for women

Interviews need to be well designed and structured with diverse panelists. We have to consider the potential for double standards and double binds to prevent the interview traps for women.

read more

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
3 Plus International Call Back Request