8 Times You Need to Stop Apologizing, Etiquette Experts Say
These moments call for a different kind of response.
Not apologizing when a situation calls for it—for instance when you've done something insulting or harmful—can get in the way of healing and reconciliation. However, for every person who neglects to say sorry when they really should take responsibility for their actions, there's someone else working overtime to apologize for the most minor offenses or no offense at all. If you find yourself offering a mea culpa freely and often, you may be in the latter camp—and it could be affecting your relationships at home, work, and beyond.
"Certainly, when we have caused someone pain or harm, it is perfectly appropriate to apologize. The difficulty arises when 'I'm sorry' becomes a default statement," says Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "Linguists often note that women are much more likely to use the phrase 'I'm sorry' even when there is no culpability at all," she adds, suggesting that our tendency to apologize may have more to do with who we are than what we've done.
Replacing an apology with a phrase that better suits the situation can help you get to the heart of the matter—without casting you as the villain. Read on to learn the eight times you need to stop apologizing, according to etiquette experts.
When you speak your mind.
More so than in many other cultures, Americans engage in small talk with the primary goal of finding commonalities. But just because we've been well-trained to dance around controversial topics doesn't mean that you should be afraid to speak your mind—or that you need to apologize when you do so.
"Many people will say sorry for having a differing opinion. You are entitled to your own opinion, you do not have to apologize for it," says Jules Hirst, founder of Etiquette Consulting. "Instead of saying sorry, you can say, 'You have an interesting perspective. Here is what I think.'"
When you decline an invitation.
If you previously agreed to plans that you now need to cancel, an apology is in order. However, if you've received an invitation with no prior discussion of your availability, you've done nothing wrong.
"Instead of apologizing for not being able to make an event, you should thank them for thinking of you and then let them know you cannot attend. Saying, 'Thank you for the invitation, but I have a previous engagement that day' is far better than 'I'm sorry, I can't make it,'" says Hirst.
When you ask for help.
In an ideal world, we would all be able to lean on one another for help and support when needed—without any feelings of guilt or shame attached. Experts say this is a dream within reach if you emphasize your gratitude rather than focusing on your feeling of having imposed when you need to ask for help.
"Everybody needs help and most people are happy to lend a hand if possible," says Hirst. "People should not have to apologize for asking for help. Instead of 'Sorry to bother you but could you help me,' you could say 'Can you spare a moment to help me?'"
When someone corrects a minor mistake at work.
There are many instances in the workplace that may compel you to offer an apology—but many of them are unnecessary. For instance, if you've made a minor mistake on a project and someone else corrects it, you can foster a better sense of team spirit by saying "Thanks for catching that!" than you will with an apology.
Similarly, it's unnecessary to apologize when you've taken a long time to respond to an email, says Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette & Protocol Academy. This will only draw attention to your minor misstep. Instead of apologizing, try opening with "Thanks for your patience," she suggests.
When you write a resignation letter.
Windsor says you should be especially mindful of unnecessary apologies at work if they're in writing. She gives the example of writing a resignation letter, which may go on file. "Do not apologize on paper as the letter is a permanent record for both the company and the person who is leaving," she advises.
When you're negotiating a raise.
Negotiating can lead to feelings of guilt or embarrassment for anyone who's not used to self-advocating so plainly, but Windsor says it's important not to apologize for your requests during the process. That's because saying sorry will only deepen the divide between the two sides and weaken your negotiating stance, rather than fostering an environment of mutual collaboration and interest.
Windsor says it's equally important not to apologize after winning a negotiation since this can undermine the perceived legitimacy of your win and "deepen the wound" for the other side. Instead, focus on your gratitude with a forward-facing attitude about the continued working relationship.
When you're feeling awkward at group gatherings.
Parties and group gatherings can trigger our social anxieties because there are so many perceived opportunities for missteps. However, much of the time, our concerns are unfounded. Windsor suggests that though we may feel we're in the wrong, our behavior is often perfectly acceptable.
For instance, she says you should never feel the need to apologize for approaching a person or group at an event to which you were invited. Similarly, some people feel the need to apologize for abstaining from alcohol. (This should never require an apology or even an explanation, notes Windsor.)
Hosting the party can cause even more heightened insecurity, but you never need to apologize for how your house looks or what you're serving for dinner, Windsor adds. "When preparing to entertain, you do not have to impress people with what you have, so never apologize for what you do not have," she tells Best Life.
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When someone is angry but you're not to blame.
Some people are especially sensitive to the emotions of others and feel the need to apologize at the first sign of anger—even when they're not to blame. This is understandable, since an apology may help to soothe the situation or smooth the conversation, but it can also put you in the hot seat undeservedly.
Smith says that this is a great time to try other responses that get to the root of the problem, without assuming guilt. Listening actively to better understand the problem, repeating your understanding of the problem back to that person, and asking if they have any ideas for how to resolve the problem are all ways to engage without taking the blame.