How To Apologize (And When You Shouldn’t)

How To Apologize

A recent New York Times opinion piece raised an important question every woman should stop to consider: Why do I apologize, and do I apologize more just because I’m female?

“For so many women, myself included, apologies are inexorably linked with our conception of politeness,” shares NYT contributor Sloane Crosley after apologizing half a dozen times to a waiter for an unsavory dish she was served. “Somehow, as we grew into adults, ‘sorry’ became an entry point to basic affirmative sentences.”

While both males and females pronounce “Sorry!” in the attempt to soften their requests or exude politeness, it is a far more common utterance for girls, almost reflexively, as they are often socialized to avoid confrontation and make others feel more comfortable. Have you ever apologized for someone else bumping into you? That’s it. That’s the reflex.

While having empathy and considering the feelings of others is an emotionally intelligent gold star, having to constantly excuse your feelings is not a productive or self-validating way to express yourself. In a society where women go to college at higher rates and receive better grades than men, perhaps it is a woman’s penchant for apology that contributes (whether consciously or subconsciously) to earning lower salaries and receiving far fewer promotions in a male-dominated workforce.

Being assertive and unapologetic for your thoughts are qualities imperative to success; consider where you slip in a “sorry” and whether it was warranted or reflexive.

But when is an apology justified, and how do you apologize effectively? When true conflict arises, it’s fair to assume that both parties involved may be at fault. Consider your emotional state when the incident in question took place, and once you have time to calm down and reflect, ask yourself a few key questions:

– How was I feeling before the event?

– Did my current mood play into my response to the situation?

– Could it have been avoided, and what role did I play in provoking the conflict?

– Is the person I’m in conflict with important to my success or quality of life (i.e. a co-worker or loved one?) 

Since it is impossible to truly know what the other person was thinking or feeling at the time of the conflict, always approach the incident from your own point of view and start from there:

1. Find an opportune moment when you have privacy, and start the reconciliation process by stating you are sorry for any hurt feelings or misunderstandings that may have arisen.

2. Explain what led to your actions or response in the moment. Then, ask what the other person was feeling – and genuinely listen.

3. Give the person time to explain his or her thoughts and actions, and try to put yourself in their shoes.

4. Develop a plan for the next time a similar conflict might arise.

Being able to apologize is a skill that requires empathy, humility, and the ability to evaluate your actions and make a positive change. A simple apology can go a very long way and improve your relationships not just personally, but also professionally.

In the event that you just happened to step on somebody’s toe, however, no need to analyze: Just say “Sorry!”

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