This Amy Schumer skit about women falling over themselves to apologize is excruciating to watch, because it’s so true.
When I turned 30, I made a resolution to stop apologizing. Not big, real, meaningful apologies (those are always necessary), but all the dumb, little ones that seem like they don’t mean anything:
To an unsolicited email:
I’m sorry I couldn’t respond to your email sooner, I’ve been on deadline…
I’m sorry if I’m out of line here, but I think that we might want to consider a different approach…
To a boss:
I’m sorry to bother you, but I want to make sure I understand the goals for this project…
Apologizing in this manner doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it adds up. It locks you into a pattern of deflecting your own agency and opinions as a woman—and their validity.
Is it inappropriate to wait a week to respond to an unsolicited email because you had much more pressing and important matters to attend to? Nope.
Is it out of line to suggest a different approach to solving a problem if you are one of the core players participating in a meeting? Certainly not.
Is it bothersome to buttonhole your boss to make sure you understand the goals of a project so that you can do a good job? Of course, not.
Once you become mindful of the language of apology, it’s surprising how often you might see it showing up. For myself, I would say that about 80% of the time that I would apologize when I was in my twenties—particularly in a work context—it was completely unnecessary. Not to mention undermining.
I find that a good litmus test for whether an apology is really necessary is to ask yourself:
How would I feel if the person replied with, ‘Apology accepted.’?
If you would feel relief, then you should apologize. If you would feel irritated, like they were being overly precious by “accepting” your apology, then you’re not really sorry and shouldn’t apologize.