In this era, it’s on-trend to be fearlessly unapologetic, but for many, including myself, “I’m sorry” is still the default response.
My recent apology-related reflections started when I received a message on the workspace app Slack with “Sorry to bother,” and I immediately felt a pang of guilt at the thought of coming across as being easily annoyed.
I think these kinds of apology-clad messages are common, and the sender probably did not mean anything overt and was just being courteous. However, I couldn’t help but overthink not only my demeanor (i.e. I try to be very approachable, but am I not friendly enough? Do I need to smile more or use more smiley emojis? Does it have to do with the bags under my eyes?) but also our societal use of “sorry” as an autopilot response that stems from a fear of being an inconvenience.
Of course there are times when a “sorry” is warranted, like when admitting a wrongdoing to someone we’ve upset or simply to be polite — but the phrase can be easily overused in social situations when we feel insecure about pleasing (or bothering) others.
For example, in class, it’s nearly impossible to go five minutes without hearing my peers apologize before a hand-raise, question or idea-related interruption, such as “sorry for asking,” or “sorry if this is off-topic.” These kinds of apologies are so normative that many of us probably don’t think twice before saying them, but they could have a deeper meaning.
As explained in “Lean In,” a female-focused career advice book by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, apologizing is an easy way out of sounding overly confident or being disliked in a group environment.
Though Sandberg’s book has drawn criticism for some of its guidelines on how women should or shouldn’t behave in the workplace, she makes a strong case for how many women use apologies to downplay their achievements and avoid coming across as heavy-handed. I think this is a worthwhile explanation that could apply to many college students and all people — not just women.
On a personal level, I certainly have a habit of overspending my so-called apology allowance. I say sorry for messaging someone five times in a row (even though most people I message are well-aware of my chronic back-to-back texting habits). “I’m sorry” often rolls off my tongue as a quick fix — whether it’s a group project faux pas or a friend-related miscommunication — even though there’s likely a lot more to the conflict than a five-letter word, which is basically a verbal Band-Aid that only temporarily covers the issue.
And that’s exactly it: Maybe “sorry” isn’t so much about the word itself but rather about what we’re not saying when we revert to apology mode. I’m not suggesting we cut out our sorries altogether, but more times than not, it’s taking up valuable air time that would be much better used for our true thoughts and ideas.
Darcy Schild is a UF journalism senior. Her column appears on Wednesdays.