I’m sorry is a phrase we’ve learned to say, not only as women, but as tall persons. I’m sorry I’m taking up too much space. I’m sorry I’m blocking your view. But are you actually sorry? Shouldn’t sorry be reserved for more grievous circumstances like running over someone’s dog or giving them food poisoning?
At university, I accidentally broke someone’s toilet while they were sleeping. I didn’t want to wake them, so I tried to fix it myself until the water started overflowing into the living room and over the balcony of their motel-style apartment. This is something I’m actually sorry for in my life. I’m also sorry that the downstairs neighbor’s lights exploded.
In my daily life, however, I suspect I’m overusing the word “sorry” just as I overuse the word “like” when I get nervous. And when you overuse a word, it starts to lose its meaning. My sorries have begun to sound more like an anxious tic and if I continue this habit, I could destroy the confident, caring tall woman I’m trying to become.
To deal with my apologetic impulse, I’ve developed a list of phrases to replace I’m sorry in common scenarios. These phrases reflect what I actually mean, instead of disproportionate sensitivity. Beware: I haven’t vetted these with a professional, so use at your own risk.
Scenario #1: Hey! You just bumped into me!
My response: Pardon me.
(Note: Unless you’ve physically injured someone, they don’t need your sympathy.)
Scenario #2: Excuse me, you’re blocking my view.
My response: No problem, I’ll try to adjust.
(Note: If you begin to apologize in this scenario, what exactly are you apologizing for? Being tall?)
Scenario #3: You’re late.
My response: I didn’t mean to disrespect your time. I hope my being late didn’t cause you inconvenience.
(Note: No one wants to hear excuses, so don’t give one.)
Scenario #4: Your performance is lacking in this job/class.
My response: I appreciate your feedback. Let me know what steps I can take to fix it.
(Note: Unless you’ve done something quantifiably terrible, this scenario could be a matter of individual opinion. I like to disarm these people by asking how I can help.)
Scenario #5: You forgot my birthday/to pick me up/something important.
Response: I’ll make it up to you.
(Note: Do not use this on your mother. Stop, drop, and apologize.)
It takes baby steps to abandon this sorry habit and communicate effectively with others. Most humans don’t want you to fall down upon your knees, prostrate, whenever you’ve crossed them. They want an acknowledgement that you see them and respect them.
I’ve found that the more I say what I mean instead of rushing to my default sorry, people respond with less anger to the situation. Sometimes they’re thrown off by my lack of apology, which is okay, too. It shows me that many of us are still overusing the S-word and treating every conflict as a severe one. Perhaps if we start voicing what we really mean, we could diffuse conflict and begin having more genuine moments.
What do you think about the S-word? Do you use it too much? Could you go one week without apologizing? Try it. Write down the phrases from these scenarios and use them whenever you get stuck. If they don’t work for you, I’m sorr–no. I mean, I invite you to come up with your own and share with us.