How many times a day do you say sorry? Once? Five times? More?
Perhaps ‘sorry’ is verbal padding, part of the way you string sentences together. It can, as writer Sloane Crosley observes, be ‘an entry point to basic affirmative sentences’. For an excessive apologiser, even simple questions or requests are accompanied by that short yet weighty word.
Though I took Lean In seriously (too seriously) at age twenty, the habit had already stuck. In most situations, my apology reflex was ready and waiting.
“Should I have said sorry to Rebecca last Thursday?”
“Did they notice I forgot to say thanks straight away? I can say sorry the next time I see them.”
I soon got bored of the distracting guilt and worry. I didn’t need to apologise before sharing ideas in class or after taking more than two seconds to open the front door.
Since then, I’ve made an effort to apologise only when necessary.
This is especially valuable at work, where it’s easy to become caught in a thread of ‘Sorry for my delayed reply’ emails. I avoid that phrase because it suggests that every enquiry is urgent and important. Regularly checking my priorities, setting reasonable deadlines and listing my part-time hours in my out of office message means that I don’t feel accountable and apologetic all the time.
I express my ideas and abilities more confidently now that I can override the instinct that threatens to undermine my words. Speaking thoughtfully means that when I do apologise, it’s sincere and considerate.
If you’d like to tame a similar habit, try saying thank you more often than sorry. I’ve realised that I’d rather show appreciation for someone else’s time and contributions than apologise for my own.