Does this scenario sound familiar?
You’re at work and need to grab something from a different room in order to accomplish a task. As you walk into the other room, you unexpectedly run into someone else who is trying to accomplish a different task. Before you fully realize it, an “I’m sorry!” slips out of your mouth.
Aren’t you just trying to do your job? For what offense are you apologizing? Stop that!
Honestly, I catch myself doing it all the time. Despite it being one of my biggest workplace pet peeves, it’s a hard habit to kick. Our society inadvertently trains us to be apologetic for interrupting other people, particularly those of us who are naturally-inclined towards helping others. I can’t really speak for other people, but from what I’ve experienced and witnessed, it seems to be a reflex developed out of insecurities, whatever those may be.
If I feel unsure of my role in my environment, or if I feel like someone else’s task is more important or of a higher status than mine, the “I’m sorry”s fly out of my mouth like moths to a porch light on a hot summer night. It’s almost like I’m casting a spell against other people’s judgements and those are the magic words to keep the negative impressions at bay.
Even now, I feel like I should apologize for using back-to-back analogies, even though it’s my blog and I can literally say anything I want. So, I’m not sorry for my flowery words. Deal with it.
In an attempt to combat this chronic ego flagellation, I’ve written down the steps that I find to be the most helpful. It seems simple enough, but just having it set in stone (or words) has been a valuable reference tool for my personal growth. Maybe it can help other over-apologizers out there. So here it is…
How To Stop Apologizing
If you’re also a chronic apologizer, try these steps to eradicate the behavior from your day-to-day interactions. You’ll ooze confidence as you use those precious, formerly-wasted moments to get shit done!
Take note of when you reflexively apologize.
Does it happen at work? Standing in line for coffee? Making a not-so-perfect meal for a loved one? Make a mental note (or an actual note, if you’re a list-maker) of when and where you make unnecessary apologies. It may not help in the moment, but by recognizing when the atrocious behavior happens, you’ll be able to anticipate those moments in the future.
Come up with an “I’m sorry” alternative.
If you feel like those words are used in place of a greeting, or just a method to fill the silence (or maybe you want to tell yourself that that’s why you do it), then try coming up with a new go-to method of acknowledging others. A simple “How’s it going?” or “Have you seen [insert whatever you’re looking for]…?” conversation-starter goes a long way. If you don’t have time to chat, be bold and just do what you intended to do when you walked in the room, without that feeling of hesitancy or inferiority – you’ll be surprised by how liberating it feels!
Understand the difference between “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me”.
One is an acknowledgement that you are in the wrong, while the other is a polite way to let others know you are passing by. Apologies are appropriate when you, say, spill coffee on someone, or when you’re late for a meeting. They are less appropriate when you are simply passing by another human being, or trying to reach something in the presence of someone else. Understand the difference and you’ll have a much clearer idea of when you’re overusing “I’m sorry”s.
Recognize that you should never have to apologize for your presence.
This is the Big One. If you take away anything from this post, I hope that it’s this point. You should never have to apologize for walking into a room when you’re just trying to do your job. Or if you’re just standing in line like everyone else. Or if you’ve worked hard on a meal, even if it didn’t turn out perfectly. You are just as important as the next guy, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Maybe it doesn’t feel like that’s why you’re saying “I’m sorry”, but it’s probably not far off the mark.
Although if may feel like a small habit that doesn’t affect anyone else, it says a lot about how you feel about yourself. As soon as I started making serious efforts to stop saying those pesky words every time I walked into a room that was already occupied, I felt so much better. Plus, I got a lot more done.