The Sorry Experiment
“It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for." -- Amy Poehler
I apologize a lot. Even when I don't mean it. Sorry. S--t, I did it again. I don't mean to not mean it, it's sometimes just a placeholder/transitional word, or a placating tool. And sometimes, it's a written tick. Some people have a twitching eye, my fingers type an apology.
I recently was responding to a work e-mail and just before hitting send, I realized I had used some form of an apology three times. THREE. (Apologies and sorry x 2.)
Bothered by this, I was interested to see just how often I apologize in work e-mails. I decided to go through my sent folder and search just how many times I used the words "sorry" or "apologies" in the course of a week.
The problem with this experiment was, of course, that I was hyper-aware of when I was apologizing, and often times hit that backspace button, my anxiety building with each tap of the keyboard. It was so hard for me to NOT say it.
In total, I used some version of an apology in 10 e-mails. Not too bad, right? Except when you look at HOW I was using the lesser versions of the s-word and a-word. (I love to curse. Sorry, mom!)
One time, it was me checking in on something I had requested at work, suggesting I may have missed an e-mail. (I didn't and knew I hadn't, they had forgotten to do it completely.)
In another instance, I was told the timing of an announcement had shifted and when I had to inform someone else of the change, I apologized. Why?! I don't control these things or the weather.
The most recent example of this word vomit is when I emailed someone who probably wasn't the right contact at a company but they were the only one I could find, so I started off my inquiry with an apology. When I was just looking for a way to give their company coverage.
As for why it seems women appear to apologize more than men, a 2010 study in Psychological Science stated, "women have a lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior." Like doing their job, asking for something, fixing a human mistake (How many times have you apologized for an order coming out wrong at a restaurant, afraid of offending the waiter?), the list goes on and on.
Ultimately, maybe we're afraid of being a burden. Or, more accurately, having someone make us feel like we are a burden, so we get ahead of it. We put a band-aid on a non-existent wound. We apologize without really having anything to apologize for.
And I'd love to tell you that I've been apologizing and saying sorry less since conducting my little experiment, but truthfully? I haven't. And for that, I am truly sorry.