Opinion: Over-apologizing can damage rather than repair relationships

We all know that one person who is constantly apologizing for things they have no control over. While an apology can be an effective first step toward repairing a damaged relationship, refusing to apologize can have profound benefits. 

As we age, it is crucial to take control over and recognize when an apology is appropriate and when it is personally damaging. 

Constructing a thoughtful apology beforehand is a good way to determine whether or not one is required. Over-apologizing can result in the loss of people’s respect, lower self-esteem and annoying social interactions. Every unwarranted apology strengthens existing struggles consistent with low self-esteem. 

In my experience, an apology can do more damage than good in certain situations. It can be incredibly irritating to continually receive apologies from your superior, because it undermines their authority. 

It seems like apologizers are constantly making mistakes, when in actuality they are apologizing for no reason. It can be confusing to determine what provoked the apology, and it signals to others that you aren’t confident in your words and actions. 

Readiness to apologize can be seen as a sign of character or a sign of weakness, according to a research article by Barbara Kellerman, James MacGregor Burns lecturer in public leadership at Harvard Kennedy School. 

There are seven steps to an effective apology, according to a handout by Harvard Medical School. If at any point you can’t complete a step in the determination process, then an apology might not be appropriate and could result in a negative outcome. 

First, the offended and the offender need to have a clear understanding of the reason behind the apology, then acknowledge that the offense was legitimate.

Next, the offender needs to take responsibility and acknowledge that whether intentional or not, it caused harm. Then, the offender should recognize they made a mistake, issue a statement of regret and promise to not repeat the mistake. 

An explanation of why the behavior happened is sometimes appropriate in combination with the other steps but not always useful because it can be perceived as an excuse. If the offended doesn’t know why the offender is apologizing, it’s likely that an apology wasn’t necessary. 

Licensed professional counselor Kelley Dawson wrote that an apology isn’t necessary when you walk by others in a public place, when you ask someone to do something for you, when someone is waiting on you, when you miss someone’s call or don’t immediately reply to a text or email, when you decline an invitation or when you ask a question. 

According to a research article from the European Journal of Social Psychology, refusing to apologize can result in increased self-esteem and feelings of power and control. Those in leadership shouldn’t apologize often unless there is a very good reason. 

Personally, I try to correct my friends when they over-apologize and help them understand that they should confidently own their behavior and mannerisms. I limit the number of apologies I give out and make sure to carefully think through whether I did something that warrants one or not. 

Apologies should only be for actions that you can’t undo.

Over-apologizers should take note of how many times they apologize and reflect on whether the apology is truly necessary. Another tip is to replace “I’m sorry” with “thank you” or another phrase even in an inconvenient situation. 

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that it’s OK to have preferences and speak your mind. It’s a waste of time to repeatedly apologize for uncontrollable things.



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