How To Stop Over-Apologizing And What To Say Instead

Some people feel the need to apologize for any perceived inconvenience, from being five minutes late to meet a friend at the movies to accidentally bumping into someone. For some, saying “I’m sorry” is a knee-jerk instinct and they overuse it so much, the phrase starts to lose its meaning.

And it turns out, some folks who apologize for every little thing may be suffering from low self-esteem. PsychologistKelly Hendricksexplains, “Those who over-apologize often feel like a burden to others, as if their wants and needs are not important.” Of course, that’s not the case for everyone who feels compelled to apologize on loop.

But when we do need to apologize, what should we say instead of “sorry?” Start with not making the apology about YOU. For example, saying “I’m so sorry I’m late” doesn’t necessarily convey the empathy a real apology needs. So you can try something that takes the other person’s experience into account, like, “I know waiting around for someone who’s chronically late is so frustrating.”Here are some other examples:

  • Instead of “I’m sorry to interrupt”- Try “I appreciate that thought, but what I wanted to say is …” Starting off with your appreciation can be a welcome substitute for an apology.
  • If you’re delayed because of traffic- Rather than the usual, “I’m sorry I’m late,” you could say, “Thanks for your patience, traffic was horrendous today.”
  • When asking someone a favor- Instead of beginning with a sheepish “Sorry to ask …,” try saying, “There’s something I’d really appreciate your help with when you have a minute.”
  • You can often swap “sorry” for “thank you”- If someone points out a mistake you made, you can acknowledge their pointer with gratitude. So rather than saying, “sorry … ” you can say, “thanks so much for pointing that out to me.”
  • Own your mistakes at work- Sometimes there’s no need to apologize if a boss or colleague brings a mistake to your attention. Instead of apologizing right off the bat, try saying something like, “Oh man, I see what I did there. Let me get to work on fixing it.”


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