We are told that apologising too much undermines our authority and damages our self-esteem, but saying you’re sorry has some surprising upsides.
By Moya Sarner
IN THE past week, I’ve caught myself apologising to a stranger who was staring at her phone and nearly bumped into me, to a passenger who had placed his bag on the only available seat on the bus, and to a waiter for serving me the wrong drink. In this, I am not alone. A third of British adults think they apologise excessively in everyday conversations and a quarter of Americans would apologise if someone else bumped into them. It is with good reason that academics from science, history and politics have named ours the “Age of Apology“.
You might think there’s nothing wrong with just being polite, but the media tells us all this over-apologising is damaging our self-esteem, undermining us in the workplace, and could even be bad for our health. So as an ardent over-apologiser, should I do something about it? The answer is complex and depends on what the apology is for, but it’s starting to become clear that saying sorry can have surprising upsides.
Much of the recent discussion on over-apologising has focused on the idea that women are particularly prone to it. One survey on the problem found that 44 per cent of women thought that they tend to apologise too much, whereas just 5 per cent of them thought this was true of men. Men on the other hand tended to think that women and men both “got it about right”.
When Karina Schumann of the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, began her post-graduate studies in psychology 11 years ago, she was confronted with similar ideas.