The other afternoon I arrived a quiet bar in midtown New York. I sat alone and patiently waited for someone to take my order. One bartender was busy flirting with a customer. Another was laughing at his iPhone and watching what seemed to be the funniest (and longest) YouTube video in history.
As the minutes kept ticking by, I couldn’t contain my desire for a glass of prosecco any longer. “Excuse me!” I exclaimed, causing the now-disgruntled bartender to look up from his phone and saunter my way.
“Yes?” he asked. (No “Sorry to keep you waiting.”) The next words out of my mouth: Instead of “May a see a menu?” or “A glass of prosecco, please,” I said, “So sorry, but can I please see your wine list?”
Sorry?! What was I sorry for? Asking for a drink? At a bar? I was mad with myself as soon as I said it. Why was I apologizing?
Are you like this too? You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) be. Women in particular may be more likely to utter automatic apologies, it turns out. But while research shows women say sorry more often than men, it’s not that men are more reluctant to apologize for mistakes: “It’s just that they think they’ve done fewer things wrong,” the study author notes. Let’s all take a page from their book.
Here are five situations when you should replace the unnecessary word with a much more empowering (and accurate) response.
Stop Apologizing For…
1. Getting in or out of a busy elevator/subway/restroom/changing room/fill-in-the-blank.
What are you sorry for, exactly? Having a physical body? Just get in or out with as little fuss as possible. Say “Excuse me” if need be, and if someone helps make it easier for you, smile and thank that person.
2. Making a request.
Do you need some advice, have some feedback, or have a question? Don’t say “So sorry to bother you, Jenny…” Just ask, “Hey Jenny, I have a question, do you have a few minutes this afternoon?”
Often when are in thought, we need to pause. That’s normal and acceptable. We do not need to fill a pause with an apology. Switch from, “This data shows us that… sorry… that we are on track for a solid Q2” to a simple, “This data shows us that [pause] we are on track for a solid Q2.” See how they feel different?
4. Not being available 24/7 (or not answering a text or call within 20 minutes).
The other day a friend chastised me for not responding to her texts. She texts me frequently, often with no call to action. Like most busy people, I don’t immediately reply to every text, email, call, or Instagram comment I get. My reflex was to say, “So sorry, my dear, I’ve been so jammed recently. How are things?” (And then unleash a long, probably fluffy text chain.)
Instead I said, “Hi my love, I have a few projects on the burner and really need to focus when working. Is there something you want to chat about? Xo.” My apology would have been insincere, so I neglected it on purpose.
Side note: It can be useful to “train” people in your life by not responding immediately to emails, calls, and texts. They’ll get used to a wait period, putting less pressure on you to always be in immediate reactive mode. If you keep someone waiting for something important, you can also replace “Sorry for the delay!” with “Thanks so much for your patience!” This statement feels different.
5. Requesting what you deserve.
When asking for a raise, the biggest mistake people make is bringing a “Sorry I’m about to request this…” vibe to the meeting. What are you sorry for? Being a badass at work? I think not. It’s totally counterproductive and sets the opposite tone you need to create. Instead, approach the conversation with an “I love working here and am thrilled to contribute more great work in the future based on what we can work out in this room” type of attitude. You have nothing to be sorry about!
Saying “sorry” is a reflex, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, its overuse dilutes its very powerful use when practiced in the right context. The need to be perceived as polite often unfairly usurps some of our basic rights—to simply be, to live, to receive. And yes—that includes being served an overpriced drink within 10 minutes at a hotel bar.
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for her free weekly wellness tips on her website, and check back every Tuesday for her latest column!