Dealing with the “I’m Sorry Syndrome”

By US Desk
Fri, 10, 21

It damages your credibility, your professionalism, your competence, your confident image....

Dealing with the “I’m Sorry Syndrome”


The habit of injecting an apology into every other sentence might seem harmless on the surface, might seem genuinely kind and considerate, but it doesn’t come from a genuine place, is a nervous verbal tic that only undermines your authority and your confidence. It damages your credibility, your professionalism, your competence, your confident image.

Do these apologies sound familiar?

I’m sorry the printer is broken

I’m sorry to take up your time

I’m sorry the feedback upset you

I’m sorry I didn’t know we would be meeting so I didn’t prepare for today

I’m sorry I can’t accommodate you at that hour

I’m sorry for the delay

I’m sorry I can’t hear you very well

Sorry, you may have already thought of this but what if we use…instead of…

Dealing with the “I’m Sorry Syndrome”

Most of us struggle with chronic over-apologising which instead of making us look genuinely caring, confident, and mannered, makes us look weak and submissive.

As with most social habits, reasons for being overly apologetic can stem from childhood. As kids, we’re taught to say sorry whenever an adult’s expectations are not met and may incur the wrath of our parents if we didn’t. After this is embedded in their minds, children can start to associate saying sorry with putting an end of uncomfortable or confrontational situations.

Dealing with the “I’m Sorry Syndrome”

Low self-esteem also contributes to your likelihood of developing sorry syndrome as you are more likely to feel like you are a hindrance, burden, annoyance, or in the way, meaning you need to apologise frequently.

Seeking acceptance is another reason why people can over-apologise. Lots of superfluous apologies can be used to increase trust and social influence.

Additionally, an overwhelming or compulsive urge to apologise can be used as a coping mechanism against feelings of anxiety. It can come from an intense worry about saying the wrong thing or doing something wrong.

Dealing with the “I’m Sorry Syndrome”

Gender, too, plays a role as to why some people develop sorry syndrome. Women are more likely to experience it than men. This all comes down to the differences in which boys and girls are typically raised – boys are encouraged to show independence and are rewarded when they show direct and confident behaviors whereas girls tend to have an added social expectation placed upon them, such as to be confident, but not conceited.

Last but not the least, where you are from will also impact upon the way and frequency which you apologise. Americans, for example, apologise far less than those from the UK or Canada. Argentinians say sorry by inviting the other out for a meal. In Japan, the sincerity of your apology can be judged by how low you bow, whereas the Swedes prefer you forgo an apology and simply explain your actions.

Signs you might be afflicted

  • You apologise for things you have no control over
  • You apologise for someone else’s actions
  • You apologise for normal, everyday interactions (for instance, scooting past someone who is seated on your row in a movie theater or airplane)
  • You apologise to inanimate objects (for instance, apologising to your phone when you drop it)
  • You apologise for things you don’t think are wrong
  • You apologise when you’re trying to be assertive
  • You apologise when you need something

When to ask for forgiveness

Instead of saying sorry flippantly, a good trick to find if something needs an apology or not is to ask yourself, “Do I need to ask for forgiveness?”

Apologise when you’ve harmed someone.

Do it when you’ve offended, disappointed, or hurt a person’s feelings.

Ask for forgiveness when you regret your behavior.

Be capable of asking for forgiveness every time you make a mistake and your mistake affects others.

Apologise to end disputes and leave behind old grudges.

Learn to be able to ask yourself for forgiveness. All of us make mistakes.

Dealing with the “I’m Sorry Syndrome”

How to stop saying sorry

If you realise you’re an over-apologiser don’t worry! You’re not alone, and there are some very easy ways in which you can start to turn the tide and reduce the number of times you say sorry.

Find a way to say “Thank you” instead

Tweak your language to at least start with a positive!

Instead of “I’m so sorry for the delay”, use “Thank you for your patience”.

Instead of “I’m so sorry for that mistake. I can’t believe I didn’t notice. Not sure what happened really…” use “Thank you for that great catch! I’ll update that now!”

Stop apologising for “bothering” people

Apologising for bothering people before proceeding to bother is just a bonus bothering!

Use “Is now a good time for a quick question?”

Use “When would be a good time to ask you a few questions?”

Use “I know how busy you are, but I’d love your feedback on something. Is now a good time?”

Stop apologising for not lowering your price

Use “Thank you so much for considering me. The reason why I do not work for lower rates is because I noticed people retain as much information from our work together as much value they put into it at the beginning. It would be a waste of both of our time if I would offer this package for free. Not to mention unfair and unethical to the rest of my paying customers. We can definitely cut the hours and the curriculum in order to fit your budget, as long as we ensure you get some real value in the long run out of our collaboration.”

Stop apologising for not working for free

Show interest and just state your rates.

Use “Thank you for thinking of me. This sounds like a great fit. My fees are XYZ. Let me know if that works for you…”

Use “Unfortunately, I’m unable to take on any unpaid projects at the moment, but if that changes in the future I’d love to get back in touch.”

Offer pro-bono alternative

Use “I understand you’re unable to pay for this project. So the best fit for you would be someone who is just starting in the field. I know a student who is looking to gain some experience.”

Inform them of a new accreditation.

Use “Thank you so much for reaching out. So much has changed since we last spoke. I’m actually now a licensed (…) and I’m offering my services at (rate).”

Stop getting overly emotional in debates

Instead of “I’m sorry, but I don’t agree”, use “That’s an interesting perspective. Here is how I was thinking about it…”

Use “I know you worked hard on this, but I don’t understand some of your conclusions. Let’s walk through this together to try to figure out the best way to present the facts.”

Actions instead of apologies

Instead of “I’m sorry I wasn’t prepared for that presentation”, use “That didn’t go in the direction I’d planned/anticipated. Here is how I’ll fix it.”

Empathy over the sympathetic “Sorry”

Instead of “I heard about what happened. I am so sorry for you”, use “That must have been so difficult for you. I’m here to help if you need anything, including by doing (XYZ specific action).”

Stop being sorry for something that doesn’t work for you

Instead of “I’m sorry but this position isn’t working out for me anymore”, use “Thank you for the opportunity. I’ve learned a lot in this position. I feel that it is time for me to tackle a new challenge.”

Dealing with the “I’m Sorry Syndrome”

What’s important to remember that Sorry Syndrome isn’t something you’re stuck with; it does not define you, and with some work and perseverance can certainly be overcome. Yes, excessive apologies can alter the way that you are treated and can even entice unkind individuals to associate with you, as they view you as an easy target for their manipulations. You might also be viewed as a pushover or as timid because when you apologise at every instance you’re waving a social white-flag for the office or your social group to see. In fact, by apologising often you’re putting added pressure upon yourself you don’t even realise. But, a sincere apology does encourage forgiveness, reduce hostility, and repair broken relationships. And in the 21st century networks and social circles, the ability to show emotional vulnerability by saying sorry can be viewed positively as well. Saying sorry is also the first step in a healthy healing process after a disagreement or negative event. Just bear in mind that everything in life is about balance.