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13 Things To Think About The Next Time You Say Sorry


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1. It's really easy to get into a habit of saying sorry even when you don't need to.

Anna Borges / BuzzFeed

And the idea that women especially should should say sorry less has gotten lots of attention recently.

But is saying sorry actually bad for you and a thing you should try to stop ASAP? BuzzFeed Life talked to clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D. and Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of Talking From 9 to 5 to learn more about saying sorry and whether it's bad for us to say it a little too much. Or a lot too much.

2. First of all, saying sorry all the time doesn't necessarily always make you sound like a pushover. Or even super polite.

Tbh, we all say it for lots of different reasons. Sometimes over apologizing is a red flag for low self-confidence or lowkey communicating that you don't think your opinion is that important. Or sometimes you're doing it to overcompensate with politeness when you know you've been a dick. "Sorry" is a pretty loaded word, and there are usually lots of different factors at play. And just like you can't draw conclusions about people from their speech patterns, it's hard to tell how your speech makes you sound to other people.

3. Cultural pressures are actually a big factor in how much you say sorry. / Via Instagram: @xsilent_screams

As Tannen points out, women are often told that the way they talk (saying sorry, upspeak, vocal fry) makes them seem less confident or competent in the workplace. But the problem, says Tannen, is that the social pressures are sort of conflicting. On the one hand, women are expected to come across as non-threatening — saying sorry comes in super handy there — but they're also told saying sorry makes you sound less confident. WTF. In the end, you have to decide for yourself what's right for you and your life and work.

4. OK, that said, starting sentences with "Sorry, but.." usually isn't ideal.

Starting a sentence with sorry might be a quick way to politely interrupt, interject, make a suggestion or request, or even get someone's attention. But Lombardo says that, especially in the workplace, using "sorry, but" to express an opinion or make a strong statement ("Sorry, but I think the first idea was better.") can actually negate the impact of anything that comes after it.

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5. Track how and why you say it to help decide if you want to change your sorry habits.

Sally Tamarkin / BuzzFeed

Simply paying closer attention to what you say throughout the day (and taking notes on when you said sorry, who you said it to, how it seemed to impact the conversation) will help you figure out how it's affecting your interactions, says Lombardo. It'll also help you investigate whether your sorry's are in fact tied to an underlying issue of self-esteem — or if it's just a matter of habit.

6. If you're still not sure if you want to kick the habit, ask yourself how'd you handle not being able to use "sorry."

Sally Tamarkin / BuzzFeed Life

Lombardo recommends going through your sorry log and simply asking yourself how you'd feel if you weren't allowed to say sorry in each situation. For example, if you find that you'd be a-ok saying something else or nothing at all, perhaps your use of sorry is NBD. But if you find that you'd feel guilt or shame if you weren't able to say sorry, that's a different deal.

7. FYI: Saying sorry a lot won't necessarily wreak havoc on your life. It might be NBD for you.

Once you review the situations in which you say sorry, you can start to figure out if it's something you actually want to curb. Tannen says that if you feel that you're being appreciated at work or in relationships, that your work is valued and taken seriously, and that overall you're getting what you want from your life, there's no real reason to change things up. Again, don't let society tell you how to talk!

If, on the other hand, you now suspect that there's a connection between saying sorry all the time and how self-confident you are or appear and what you're not achieving at work or in relationships, it might be a good idea to try to cut back.

8. To say sorry less, start by figuring out what you really mean to say.

Lombardo says replacing the "sorry" with words that more directly express what you mean will actually get your point across better anyway. For example, you probably meant "excuse me" when you accidentally bumped into someone, or "may I interject?" when you wanted to ask a question in that meeting. Or maybe instead of saying "I'm sorry, but I really need you guys to work late tonight," you could instead say, "I respect that this isn't what you want to do tonight and I appreciate that you're taking time away from your life to work late tonight."


9. Now try to actually say those things in conversation. / Via Instagram: @gdeall13

It's going to feel awkward to change things about the way you speak, so try to make small changes one sorry at a time. Eventually it'll feel more natural and will become your new normal, says Lombardo.

10. You can also ask people to help you with that. / Via Instagram: @xsilent_screams

For many people, says Lombardo, saying sorry for any reason is almost reflexive, which makes it a tough habit to notice and quit. Lombardo recommends asking a close friend — maybe someone who's also monitoring their own use of sorry — to point out each time you say it in a totally unnecessary situation.

11. Bonus: The less you say sorry as a reflex, the more meaningful your real apologies will be. / Via Instagram: @lance.ngujo

Using sorry in the not reflexive way, like being willing to admit fault and offer an apology — is actually a highly sought-after quality, especially in the workplace, says Tannen. After studying speech in the workplace, she found that employees reported not liking bosses who didn't admit to and apologize for mistakes, and valuing highly managers who regularly offer genuine apologies.

12. Whatever you do, don't beat yourself up for saying sorry. / Via Instagram: @buzzfeedanimals

Instead of getting down on yourself for saying sorry a lot, Lombardo recommends pretending to be a journalist who's reporting on yourself and your own use of the word. Don't judge yourself; simply take notes and try to understand why it's happening.

13. Don't expect perfection — just keep at it till you're where you want to be.

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The more you practice not saying sorry so much, the easier it'll be. That said, Lombardo recommends not looking at it like an all or nothing challenge where if you have a lapse you've totally failed (lapses, she says, are especially likely when you're feeling stressed) because it's not about achieving perfection with the way you speak, but about being comfortable with yourself.