Why Are Women Apologizing So Much?

Last week I was immersed in a world of women bloggers and creative business owners at Altitude Design Summit in Salt Lake City. It was the most inspiring conference I have ever been to and I am ready to reign in some of the big ideas I have been brainstorming about for too long.

But, in addition to the awe-inspiring talent that was all around me, one thing stood out to me once I acknowledged its presence:

Women apologize. A lot.

Many of the woman that I crossed paths with greeted me with “Oops! Sorry!” and then scooted out of my way.

I don’t bring this up to suggest that I was immune to this compulsion. I did it, too! And I was kicking myself every time the S-word slipped out of my mouth.

I don’t know how or why, but I’ve been conditioned to be overly polite and somewhat submissive to avoid conflict in minor encounters with other humans. I don’t generally shy away from taking up space in the world, or sharing my thoughts on life, so this baffles me.

And it’s not that I can’t handle coming face to face with other people daily, but “sorry!” has become the knee jerk response to every abrupt or unexpected encounter with another human being.

Once the apologies were blatantly obvious to me, I noticed that women apologized for speaking up, too. And for clarifying what they were saying.

“Sorry! I just have a quick question.”

“Sorry! What I meant was…”

What’s even more frustrating about apologizing for simply taking up space, over and over again?

I’m not sorry.

I don’t actually feel apologetic about being in someone’s way for a split second or speaking up in a crowded room.

I’ll bet the same goes for all the other women throwing that word around.

But I find myself--and most of the women I literally bump into every day--saying it all the time.

On my way home from the conference, women all around me in airports and on planes were apologizing for everything from trying to walk through the same doorway as someone else, to having to get out of their seat to use the restroom during the flight.

You know what else I noticed? Not a single man said “sorry!”. Because there was no reason to.

So, I made a choice. I decided that I am not going to apologize anymore unless it is absolutely warranted.

I made this choice during the conference, and it was hard to break the Sorry Habit. I’ve had to think of new ways to address some of my awkward encounters with strangers (and not-so-strangers) every day:

  1. When I am faced with the dreaded doorway stand-off, or someone is obliviously standing in the way of the path I am trying to take, a simple “excuse me” or “pardon me” works wonders! I speak audibly, give a friendly smile and move right along.

  2. When I have something to say, I say it without apologizing first. I simply speak my mind (again, audibly, so as to actually be heard).

  3. I’m also trying to be a better listener, so that I don’t feel compelled to interrupt others (and subsequently apologize for doing so). When I accidentally speak at the same time as the other person, I pause to let them finish or say “Go ahead”.

  4. I’m not apologizing for having a differing opinion from someone else. Having a different point of view, even if it doesn’t align with someone else’s values or point of view, is no reason to apologize.

  5. I’m learning to clarify what I am saying without expressing regret. A direct approach, without apologizing for what I am about to say, is usually the most effective.

Have you noticed the Sorries being tossed carelessly around you, too? If you didn’t notice it before, it will probably drive you bananas after reading this post.

So my challenge to you, if you do this, is to stop it. Right now. Unless you genuinely feel sorry.

In which case, I have to ask you: Why?