“Don’t apologize. Don’t give them that.”
This time three years ago, I was sitting in my bosses’ office after a tough meeting when she said these words to me. The staff blame game had ensued and in an effort to keep the peace and move on off a sore argument about a project, I had said, “Ok, sorry” and moved on to the next topic. I hadn’t even realized it until my boss pointed it out- I had apologized for something I had no reason to. And while I didn’t think it was a big deal, my boss explained something to me then that I don’t think I fully grasped until this morning.
“When you say sorry for something when you’ve done nothing wrong, you are in some slight way scolding yourself,” she explained. “And trust- there are plenty of voices that can do that. Use yours for something else.”
The advice session was all but forgotten until I read Russell Bishop’s piece for The Huffington Post, titled, “Why You Should Never Defend, Explain or Justify.” Bishop outlines much the same case my boss made to me years ago.
“I have learned that when I feel the need to dexify myself, some part of me is almost always of the opinion that they must be right and I must be wrong. The defending, explaining and justifying never seems to change anything and, instead, tends to anchor me more deeply in the issue that needs to be addressed.”
While very much a man’s opinion, Bishop’s piece takes off a 2010 study from the University of Waterloo researchers, Karina Schumann and Michael Ross found that while the idea that women apologized more frequently was unfounded, women did report themselves for committing more offenses. Their conclusion? Women have a heightened internal threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.
In some ways, our ability to detect when we’ve offended someone is a great trait to have- it makes us more in tune with the world around us. On the other hand, if we’re not careful, our sensitivity can make us prone to reporting ourselves for offenses we haven’t committed. For women, the result of too many of those thoughtless apologies is usually a nurtured habit of self-blame.
This is by no means a call to go offending people and flipping the deuces up, but it is a request for us to consider more carefully the things we say “sorry” for. Being more deliberate in our apologies can allow us to truly own up for and overcome our flaws. Often times, saying sorry for things we haven’t done can leave us with a guilt we have no business carrying.
Many of us are already carrying the world on our shoulders. The last thing we need is to add burdens to our own load.
As Miss Nina Simone told her back-up singers before starting up the recording of ‘I Shall Be Released’: “Don’t add nothing to it, if it isn’t there.”