This November, we’re challenging you to stop apologizing.
There are a couple of images circulating around Facebook and the rest of the internet which suggest ways to stop saying sorry and start saying thank you (e.g. “I’m sorry for being so late” vs. “thank you for being so patient!”). I recently decided to try it myself and instantly found I apologize frequently and, too often, unnecessarily.
Sometimes it’s me apologizing for existing (every time I instinctively say sorry when someone bumps into me) or for things outside of my control, but I use these excessive apologies in other ways too.
I use them to irrationally protect myself. If I apologize when I ask a question or make a comment (‘I’m sorry if this doesn’t make sense but…’), it feels like I’m somehow insulating myself from future criticism by highlighting my flaws up front. But instead, I’m just undermining my own thoughts and intelligence, presenting my words as something less valuable before the listener can even evaluate them on their merits.
I also use apologies when I’m really just fishing for some reassurance or validation (‘I’m sorry for being a bad guest’ when I really just wanted someone to give me permission to show up to a pre-game without any contribution).
Other times, I use the apologies to avoid conflict. If someone is being hostile to me, my instinct is to apologize for something, giving a little ground so they’ll soften. But that makes no sense if I’ve done nothing wrong. I was recently at the receiving end of a pretty hostile email, and fortunately Grace was here to read my draft reply.
Don’t apologize, she insisted. So, even though it felt too aggressive to leave the apology out, I didn’t say I was sorry. And, lo and behold, this exchange ended with him apologizing to me instead – twice, and for good reason.
And sometimes, in moments I’m less proud of, I weaponize my apologies. I say I’m sorry when I’m really not to add a terse lilt to whatever comes next (‘I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear, but…’).
Then there are the apologies that I can’t trace back to any specific motivation, the ones that have slipped into the way I express myself, an odd little crutch to substitute for things I haven’t learned to articulate in a more meaningful way.
But here’s the thing about apologies – when you don’t use them properly, they do no one any good. Through an ill-placed apology, you can make someone else’s graciousness suddenly all about you, excuse the bad behavior of someone else, or miss out on the chance to express yourself sincerely.
So, this month, join us in taking a pause whenever your instinct is to apologize; chances are, you mean something else entirely.
And, of course, sometimes we really fuck up. In those cases, of course give a real, thoughtful apology.
Also, I know our challenge posts usually come out on the first of the month, so thank you for your patience.
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image courtesy of artem.