We hear a lot about the power of an apology, and inevitably, there are going to be times when we need to sincerely apologize. (Hint: We all make mistakes!)
However, over-apologizing is far more common than you might think. Even worse—you could be apologizing for something that you shouldn’t be sorry about (Did you actually do anything wrong?).
If you’ve found yourself apologizing when you’re not really sorry, apologizing for something out of your control, or apologizing for something that you really shouldn’t be sorry for at all, then you may need to take note—and stop the “I’m sorry” card. In this article, we’re going to explore when you shouldn’t apologize and why.
Let’s be clear: there is a time and a place for a meaningful, necessary apology. If you’ve hurt somebody’s feelings or done something that you shouldn’t have, then you may need to offer a sincere apology.
An apology is defined as an acknowledgment of a mistake, regret, or asking forgiveness for some fault. Saying you’re sorry can patch up relationships, smooth things over at work, and deal with any harm or hurt you might have caused.
However, the real power of an apology is in its sincerity. People can usually tell when a person is truly sorry for something they’ve done, as opposed to simply offering an apology because they feel like they should.
If you plan to apologize, make sure you really are sorry. It’s all about the motivation, and half-hearted or insincere apologies are a waste of your time and that of the other person.
Chances are, you can think of some incident when you’ve apologized, but you shouldn’t have had to.
For example, maybe somebody bumps into you on the street. It’s clearly their fault, but you automatically find yourself shooting off an, “I’m sorry!” only to realize that you’re not getting an apology in return.
However, there are other, more serious incidents when you might find yourself on the brink of apologizing or even expected to apologize by other people—despite the fact it’s not your fault. Here are a few scenarios in which you should not be the one apologizing:
It seems obvious, but you shouldn’t apologize for something that isn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter if you “feel” responsible, if you aren’t actually responsible for the mistake, you shouldn’t apologize.
You shouldn’t need to apologize for a coworker’s mistakes, for something a family member has done, or for anything else that has nothing to do with you. Make sure you know what your personal responsibilities are, both at work and in your personal life.
More importantly, make sure you know which things aren’t your responsibility. You aren’t to blame for these things going wrong.
Sometimes life gets out of hand, and things happen beyond our control. For example, suppose you’re late for something because of a delayed train or canceled flight. Realistically, there’s nothing at all you can do about that.
It might inconvenience some people (not least of all yourself!), but there is really nothing you could have done to avoid it.
So, don’t apologize. You may want to offer an explanation as to why you’re late, such as explaining that your flight was canceled. However, it’s not your fault, and nobody should be ready to blame you or expect an apology.
Alternatively, thanking people for their patience is a good way to acknowledge the way they’ve been inconvenienced without actually apologizing or taking the blame.
Related Article: 7 Practical Ways to Feel More in Control of Your Life Right Now
There’s a big difference between making a real mistake or just reacting differently to what other people expect. You are an individual, and you’ll handle things differently from another person.
A prime example is feeling as though you need to apologize for being emotional (or not emotional) over something that other people feel a certain way over, or for using different or unexpected methods to get the correct result.
This isn’t a mistake, even if other people don’t feel you’re acting the “right” way. Don’t apologize.
As an individual, you have your own opinions. Never apologize for being straightforward and speaking your mind.
Of course, there’s a difference between speaking your mind or being rude and hurtful. However, there’s no need to apologize for having a different opinion from other people, or for saying what you really think about something.
Never apologize for being yourself. This can connect with the previous two situations, where you’re speaking your mind or doing things differently from how others expect. This includes having different opinions from other people, or even clashing with them as to how something should be handled.
At the end of the day, most of the time you don’t need to apologize for making your voice heard.
Over-apologizing is more than just “being polite.”
Firstly, apologizing too much dilutes the power of a sincere apology. If you need to say sorry and mean it, your apology will mean nothing because you apologize for things you don’t mean all the time.
Secondly, over-apologizing can make other people start to blame you automatically.
If you apologize for something beyond your control, something you’re not responsible for, or something that doesn’t need an apology, others can start to see you as somebody who’s always making mistakes, who can’t handle anything, or is to blame whenever things go wrong.
Last but not least, over-apologizing can hurt our own self-esteem. You might start to get into a bad mindset, thinking of yourself as worthless, as always making mistakes, or somehow inferior to others.
You might find yourself in a situation where you apologize automatically, without even stopping to wonder whether it’s your fault at all.
Taking the time to really think about how much you apologize can help you work out whether you’re over apologizing or not. Sincere apologies are certainly a powerful tool, presuming that you don’t over-use them.
Figuring out that sweet spot for when the “right” time to apologize is can help you ensure others trust you and that you trust yourself! It’s a fine line, but it’s one worth walking!