“Sorry!” the woman replied, ducking quickly to the discount stand and back. “Sorry, it’s $1.50.”
At sport the next day, I watched as the coach said to parents on the sidelines, “Sorry, we need someone to score.” Seconds later, a player came up and said “Sorry, I need to sign the sheet.” An umpire on the next court was accidentally struck in the back of the head with a ball and said “Sorry.”
Amy Schumer sent up the ‘sorry’ epidemic in a recent skit, and Pantene produced a viral commercial on the topic last year. Both gave examples of situations where apologies aren’t warranted but are given anyway.
- Someone bumps into us
- We raise a point or ask a question
- We send back an uncooked meal
- We preface an opinion
- We ask someone to move aside so we can get past
Intellectually, we understand that it makes no sense to apologise for helping someone do their job. Or for filling in required paperwork. Or for the fact that someone has hit us in the head. Yet the apologies keep coming:
Sorry… you knocked over my coffee.
Sorry… I’m here for my medical appointment.
Sorry… you’re not making yourself clear.
Does it matter?
“Sorry” might just be a habit. It might be a device used for politeness or to ease an opinion softly into conversations.
But its overuse has a detrimental impact on how seriously we’re perceived in the workforce (and out of it). Over-apologising (sometimes in what seems like every second sentence in chronic cases) gives the impression that we don’t deserve to be heard. It gives the impression that we believe others’ views are more worthy than our own. That our voices ought to be ushered quietly into a discussion through the back door instead of the main entrance, without making a fuss.
The habit sends a message that we believe we’re taking up space. We’re in the way. Our involvement or contribution is inconvenient. Others have more right to be there, or to speak up.
It gives off a vibe of uncertainty and insecurity. And while that mightn’t matter so much while navigating a full trolley past another in the frozen goods section, it certainly makes a difference in job interviews, meetings and daily professional interactions.
“Sorry” is a beautiful and powerful word when used in situations of genuine error or wrongdoing. It can move mountains between two people.
Can we save it for that purpose?