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Stop Saying The S-Word

If you are wondering what the S-Word is let me tell you. It’s the word we use constantly – sorry. It’s just a harmless British pretence though, right? Well, in fact, it’s not – and evidence suggests that the ‘modern plague’ of over-apologising is having a more damaging impact on women.

Having lived in the U.K for almost 15 years, I’m generally very good at apologising. It’s a stereotype yes, but it’s also true, and that’s why I’ll often find myself apologising constantly out of context. It’s a good thing to work on saying sorry when you’ve genuinely done something wrong but when it’s excessive it can become a bad thing.

Let me tell you what provoked me to write this post or perhaps rant today! The past few months have been crazy for me. As I build my coaching practice I’ve had to put in more work here, in addition to my role at the Cherie Blair Foundation and managing stuff at home. Growing my coaching practice is a big goal and dream for me, one that aligns completely with my life purpose – to serve and change the lives of women one person at a time. This is my choice and I want to do it.

In January this year, I made a pact with myself that I would show up everyday and put in as much time as I can into building my practice and that means I have to give up or say No to some other things. Off late I’ve noticed that I’ve been apologising so much for this! Coming to really think of it, that’s crazy right – I didn’t do anything wrong, in fact I’m just keeping to my commitment.

Let me give you some examples. I work from home a lot and its very common for friends to call me for lunch or coffee. I can’t make it most of the time as I’m choosing to work and my first response is – “I’m sorry, really sorry, I’m working, I can’t make it!” Then it’s with my daughter – “honey, I’m really sorry, please give me 15 minutes, mummy just needs to finish this bit of work.” Then again it’s with my partner – “I’m so sorry can you please cover for me, I need this hour to work. I’m sooo sorry!”

It really hit me a few weeks back, when I noticed my 14 year old too, apologising constantly. She’s apologising because she’s studying. “Mum, I’m so sorry I really need to study and finish this off in the next hour. Mum, I’m so sorry can you pick me up as I have lots of books to bring back home for revision.” She is sorry for so many things – sorry her friend didn’t do well in the test, but she did; sorry she wants to sleep in on Sunday! And that’s when it hit me – I’ve been great at modelling the S-Word.

The first step to any change is to get self-aware. So I spent 2 weeks just observing this trend. Every time I or anybody else said sorry for no real reason, I made a note of it and by end of the week I realised that over apologising when it’s not necessary was becoming an epidemic. Here are a few thoughts on why it may be damaging to say sorry all the time:

  • When we apologise for no reason, we are minimising ourselves. Women especially tend to do this a lot. One of the big problems with saying sorry when something isn’t your fault is that it can lead people to assume that it is your fault. Most people don’t apologise when they have nothing to apologise for, and so if you’re constantly saying sorry to people they’ll start to presume that you’re guilty or to blame.

  • It can take a beating on your confidence. Saying sorry a lot can make you seem less confident and even less competent, which can lead people to start taking advantage of you or even resenting you. If you apologise for not being good at something for instance then you will instantly seem worse at it.

  • It stops you from taking responsibility. We tend to use sorry as a crutch. For example if we have a presentation and it goes badly, we often say – Oh I’m sorry I didn’t get time to prepare. Using sorry here as a crutch stops you from taking responsibility for your actions.

Do you feel you are over-apologising? If so, what do we do about it? Recently I read an article on Medium by Heather Hund and she had a great suggestion – substituting gratitude for sorry. Here’s her piece :

Often, when I say “I’m sorry,” what I am really doing is apologising for being assertive. I am apologising for asking for what we really want. I am apologising because I fear that I might inconvenience someone else.

And there’s no need to apologise for these things.

I recently had a new baby — and our pediatrician advised us not to have toddlers in the house while he’s really tiny due to some family health issues. Most of our friends have toddlers. Which made me feel terrible.

Instead of apologising, I decided to take on the challenge of saying thank you.

When people asked to come over to see the new baby, I proposed a walk instead — and explained the situation. And, instead of saying “I’m so sorry,” I said “Thank you so much for your flexibility and understanding. I am so grateful to have you in my life.”

I meant it. I am truly grateful to have friends who are understanding enough to love me and honour my request.

And, guess that happened?

People understood. I felt more confident in asking for what I want. They joined us on some great walks outside. We were able to bond over some of the joys and challenges of parenthood.

And instead of feeling the guilt associated with saying, “I’m sorry,” I felt deep gratitude towards those I love.

Gratitude is a powerful thing — something which can only serve to deepen relationships. So, thank you friends. Thank you for your understanding. For your love. For your support.

I love her advice and I’ve now started substituting thank you for sorry. So now when my friends ask me to join them for coffee and I can’t because I’m working, I just say – "Thank you so much for the asking me. I’m working today so I can’t join you. Have a great time!"

I'm Poornima Nair, Qualified Life Coach, NLP Practitioner and Founder of Live Authentic Coaching. If you are curious about coaching, interested in being nurtured, inspired and pushed to your edge, to discover and create the relationships, career, lifestyle, finances you are longing for, please reach out to me for a taster of what great coaching does to foster the clarity, mindset, qualities and skills that will allow you to breakthrough.

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