If I could delete one phrase from the English language, I know exactly which one it would be.
It’s a pairing of two little words that, in my estimation, forces anyone who utters those words to abdicate the power they have in a given situation.
It’s a phrase that’s spoken far too often by people who mean it far more than they should. Especially us women. I cringe every time I hear myself say it.
Those two words: “I’m sorry.”
I’ve been paying attention to the use of that phrase for over a year now, and I’ve noticed a few key things about it:
1) The automatic-ness with which it’s said – how quickly it flows from someone’s mouth when no apology is necessary. For someone people it seems to be the automatic way to start a response. Have you noticed that? From now on, pay attention to how often someone (including yourself) starts a conversation or an email with “I’m sorry.”
2) How often it’s followed by a deflection of blame, e.g., “I’m sorry that I’m just calling you back; So-and-So didn’t give me the message until now.” The deflection might not even be true: I’ll admit to pretending I just saw someone’s email, even though I’ve been staring at in in my inbox for several days. When other people do it, it’s like watching a game of Hot Potato: I can see the person push that blame onto anyone else so that she doesn’t get burned.
3) Most of all I’ve noticed the hidden message behind that apology: “Don’t hate me because I made a mistake.” That is, after all, why we deflect blame – because something bad happens to people who are wrong ((according to our subconscious).
Will you join me in eradicating this plague of unnecessary sorry-ness?
Let me tell you a secret which, if you bear this in mind, will eliminate “I’m sorry” from your vocabulary in all cases except for when it’s really called for.
(Which, by the way, will give those words much more meaning when you do say them.) Remember this and you will step into a place of loving power, compassion, and service rather than your first instinct of offering an apology:
Most women, as well as sensitive men, are incredibly triggered by fear of rejection. We are also programmed to judge in others the characteristics that are weakest within ourselves.
What this means is that if you make a mistake that affects someone else, they’re likely to perceive your oversight as a slight against them. That’s the first strike against you in their minds.
What you do next can either neutralize the first strike or add a second one. If you follow your reflex to apologize profusely then you’ve just added a second strike against yourself: By stepping into your own fear of rejection, you’ve given that other person something to judge. In their (subconscious) eyes now you’ve wronged them and you have no power to make the situation right.
What’s a better next step? My favorite is to start by saying “You are right.” There are few words that do more to soothe the ego of someone who’s feeling slighted. In fact, you’d be speaking directly to the part of their subconscious that has been quietly arguing with you about how you have wronged them. When you unexpectedly agree with that voice in their head, it no longer has ammunition against you.
“You are right” can be followed perfectly by “I made a mistake.” You might think that admitting a mistake is the weak thing to do, but I invite you to try it out and experience the power it brings. It’s not the same as saying “I’m sorry” because there’s no shame or regret implied. When you own your mistake, you take away the power for someone to use it against you; ultimately, that’s what we’re afraid of, because of all the times our mistakes have been held against us before.
Here’s one more suggestion that can’t be overlooked. It applies to point #1 above: Don’t offer an apology before one is needed. Notice whether the other person is actually upset before you apologize. How about asking them: “Are you upset about that?” Even if they say Yes, now you know what you’re working with, and you’ve opened a dialogue to address it directly. That’s powerful!
Also, don’t take things personally. If you’re a service provider, for example, don’t assume it has anything to do with you when someone declines your services. There could be a hundred different reasons, 99 of which have nothing to do with you.
An unnecessary apology puts your energy in the other person’s space. Stay in your own space and you will be standing in your own power.