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Over-Apologizing Is A Real Problem -- Here's What To Say Instead

Sorry, not sorry.

Women are increasingly aware of our over-apologetic tendencies, thanks to everything from Amy Schumer sketches to Pantene ad campaigns:

(Proving their point, my knee-jerk response was that I was super sorry for my role in all of it.)

A 2010 study from the University of Waterloo's Department of Psychology hypothesized that "men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior." Those habits are hard to break, and being self-conscious about them can ironically compel a lot of us to apologize more.

But "sorry" is overused, especially when other language can better communicate our sentiments. So before you say it, consider what you actually mean -- because these alternative phrases may help clarify where you're coming from:

  • "Excuse me"

    I've gone as far as apologizing to tables for bumping into them -- but the fact is, sometimes people just happen to be in the way. "Excuse me" will make you sound more polite than defeated.

  • "I have a question"

    Whether at school, work or even with friends, we sometimes apologize when we really just need more information. You don't need to open with an apology to ask your boss a question that will help you do your job better. It's not an interruption or a nuisance; it's clear communication.

  • "There's something I need"

    Confidence is key in getting what you want, but we often feel bad asking directly for it. Whether it's asking a friend for a favor, asking a boss for a raise or asking your romantic partner for emotional support, you can't communicate your needs with a "sorry," unless what you need is to be forgiven.

  • "This is a misunderstanding"

    A lot of arguments are just miscommunications that got out of hand, and they're nobody's fault. Call it what it is and you might be able to fix things without having to say "sorry."

  • "Don't yell at me"

    Our sorries can be a self-protective way to exit a conflict, but there are more assertive ways of waving a white flag with a person who isn't being fair -- mainly declaring what you're not willing to deal with. This seems hard at first, but it's not any worse that being bullied into an apology.

  • "I feel nervous"

    So many sorries have been said just as a nervous reflex, but it's not so much an omission of guilt as it is an omission of anxiety. Admitting that you're feeling jittery makes you relatable, and you're more likely to calm down by calling it out.

  • "I f--ked up"

    Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone needs to apologize sometimes. But "sorry" is so overused, it's not even the best way to admit fault. If you want your apology to mean anything, you may want to get more introspective with it.

  • "Please forgive me"

    Even when your sorry is sincere, it's really a roundabout way of asking for what you really want: forgiveness. Saying that outright gives the person whom you upset the opportunity to consider it.

  • "I'd like an apology from you"

    Trying to trick someone into saying "sorry" by offering it up first -- when you don't mean it -- is the best way to make yourself more upset. The odds are they can tell you're fishing for an apology, and they'd respect you more if you were honest about that.