Last week, I sent an email in which “Sorry about that!” was my automatic reply — I had forgotten something, and the person’s curt message made clear that they were less than pleased with me. But after a minute of consideration, I took out the “sorry” and told them I’d do what they were requesting ASAP. I did, the task got done and everyone was fine. No harm, no foul.
Days later, I’m still thinking about that email and if my reply came off rudely or not. To be clear, being rude was not my intention; when I took that extra minute to think about my response, I realised I had done nothing worthy of an apology. But as a woman (particularly a young woman responding to someone much older, and theoretically more authoritative), you get used to playing certain roles.
And the Automatic Apologiser is one of the most common, and one of the most difficult to break. Women are taught to be passive and make everyone comfortable. Our default is to apologise, even if there’s really nothing to apologise for. And I say this as someone who has apologised to inanimate objects more than once.
Writes Leah Fessler for Quartz:
As countless studies have proven, women apologise far more frequently than men do, largely because men are socialised to believe they have far less to apologise for.
This habit translates seamlessly online, where “lady language” manifests in women’s incessant use of exclamation points, reassuring emojis, and typed-out “sorry!!!”s. Such “hedges,” as gender linguist Susan Herring calls them, are the emotional labour of digital communication.
It’s something I’ve become more conscious of in the past year, and have taken steps to change. Playing the role of the meek people pleaser is very 2017 Alicia. That’s not to say I’m never apologising again — some actions certainly warrant it. But not responding to someone’s email quickly enough or completing a task differently than someone else suggested do not rise to that level.
The key to saying “I’m sorry” less is, of course, being aware that you’re doing it. Taking a beat before rushing to respond helps. That’s one of the reasons why taking extra time to answer messages has become one of the most useful habits I’ve picked up in the past year or so. I write a response, sit back or switch tabs briefly, and then come back to it.
Another trick I like: Substitute “thanks” for “sorry,” as Quartz suggests. Instead of writing “sorry about that!” for example, you might write, “thanks for pointing that out.” Gmail also has a plug-in that can point out instances where you’re undermining yourself by using phrases like “I’m sorry,” “I just” and the cringingly passive, “I’m no expert but.”
If you don’t like these suggestions… thanks for pointing that out. There. That was easy.