real life

"I tried to say sorry just once a day, and it changed the way I communicate."

There was one morning, a few years back, where I fainted before work.

I woke up on the floor of my bedroom. Rubbed the back of my head. Then called my manager to tell her I was sorry, but I’d missed my bus because I’d fainted and that I was going to be late.

She, being a lovely and rational person, told me to a) not come in and b) not to apologise for passing out.

As ridiculous as that story sounds, it’s not exactly uncommon for me to rush to an apology at the first sign of any inconvenience – even if I’m not to blame.

What would it look like if a man lived like a woman for a day? Probably something a lot like this:

Video by MMC

Can’t hear what you’re saying? I’ll say sorry.

Need to ask a question? I’ll say sorry.

Did nothing but stand still as you bumped into me? I’ll definitely say sorry.

And I’m not alone in this, either.

According to a study completed at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Psychology, women have a tendency to bring out the “s” word far more often than men. Not because men are unfeeling cretins who won’t apologise, but because women are generally more inclined to class their behaviour as offensive.

The study found men “have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behaviour,” and while there are certainly ~some~ dudes who should lower that threshold by a sizeable degree, I’d argue that almost every woman you encounter probably needs to raise theirs a few clicks.

According to Rachel Cohen, a clinical psychologist based at the Black Dog Institute, there are a few reasons some women do this.

Firstly, ladies are more likely to try and de-escalate uncomfortable situations:

“Women have been found to be more socially-attuned and motivated to keep harmony in their relationships and therefore may tend to apologise more,” she said.

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“Some research has shown that while the typical male response to social stress is a ‘fight or flight’ response, women ‘tend-and-befriend’.”

 

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In addition to this, we’re often taught not to be confrontational:

“Many women have been socialised to be ‘polite’ from a young age,” Cohen continued.

“A common finding in literature is that women are expected to appear warm and likeable and experience more backlash when they brag than when men do. Accordingly, less assertive and more people-pleasing behaviours (like apologising) are more likely to be reinforced and adopted.”

Finally, Cohen shares personal experience has its weight, too:

“The tendency to over-apologise could be driven by individual factors (such as low self-esteem or anxiety) rather than gender,” she shared.

“It can also be a learned behaviour from childhood where one had to ‘stay out of the way’ or apologise to keep safe or keep the peace in the family environment.”

So, in a nutshell: if you over-apologise, it’s probably because your nature, cultural conditioning and past experiences drive you to.

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Excellent.

The good part is that you can change your behaviour.

With that considered, I decided to try and break my habit by giving myself a limit of one “sorry” per day for a week.

Here’s how I went:

Day one gave me a false sense of security because I’m a freelancer and I didn’t speak to anyone for hours.

7pm rolled around and I hadn’t apologised once, so – like a fool – I became convinced that I would smash this challenge.

It was at about this time that I had to tell a good friend that I couldn’t help her out with a favour. A sorry was warranted, so I gave one out.

It was all downhill from there.

I went out with friends and apologised six more times by 10:30pm. One time was during a game of Jenga. I literally apologised when someone else caused the tower to fall.

"It was at about this time that I had to tell a good friend that I couldn’t help her out with a favour. A sorry was warranted, so I gave one out. It was all downhill from there." Image: Supplied.

Days two and three weren’t much different. I agreed to go away for the weekend with some new friends, which I quickly discovered was an apology booby-trap.

At one stage, I said sorry for missing a shot in a game of pool. We weren’t playing in teams.

By day four I was aware that I sucked at sticking to my limit. But I was paying better attention to what I was saying and began catching myself mid-apology (sometimes).

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Day five was the first day I managed to stick to my limit. Granted, I was back to my solo working schedule. But hey, that hasn’t stopped me in the past. A quick look through my emails will show I’m great at peppering responses with unnecessary apologies.

By day six I noticed a change. I was becoming more considered in the way I responded to people. Instead of saying the first thing that came to mind, I’d pause, then choose something like “is that okay with you?”.

Day seven came and, surprise, surprise, I said sorry more than once. There were, however, a handful of times where I went to apologise and didn’t.

So, look. I failed my experiment.

But even in failing I’ve been able to see a shift in the way I communicate. And I’ve come to see how valuable it is to take back a little power just by reflecting on what I’m saying for 10 seconds longer.

Slowly I’m chipping away at that urge to please and honey, I’m not sorry at all.

Do you notice you 'say sorry' more often than you should? What steps have you put in place to stop this? Tell us in a comment below.

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