One Subtle Way Women Give Away Their Power; Breaking the Apology Habit

Samantha Bove

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I think the world would be a better place if everyone embraced the parts of themselves that society says are "too much." I'm on a mission to prove it. 
Business Coach ⊹ Reiki Master ⊹ Conscious Corporate Speaker

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Has someone ever bumped into YOU and you instinctually apologize to THEM? Same. Apologizing has become a natural part of daily life for many women, and it goes beyond mere politeness. We often apologize for expressing emotions, for asking questions, for our appearance, and for taking our time. In this article, I explore why women tend to apologize more than men and how breaking this habit is crucial for building confidence and being taken more seriously in and out of the workplace.

Do women apologize more than men?

As I became more aware of my own tendency to habitually apologize, even for things that were not my fault, I noticed notice that my male friends and colleagues did not struggle with the habit. This led me to investigate whether there was evidence to support my theory that women apologize more often than men. Unsurprisingly, numerous studies confirm this theory. One study in particular showed that women tend to report committing more apology-worthy offenses and perceive situations as requiring an apology more frequently than men. Women also believe they are owed apologies more often than men do. For instance, a woman may apologize for taking a few hours to reply to a text message to a friend, citing a meeting as the reason, while a man might not feel the need to do so. Understanding these nuances sheds light on the impact of habitual apologizing on women’s lives and how it contributes to perpetuating a sense of constantly doing something wrong and being “less than.”

Building Workplace Confidence: Breaking the Apology Habit

Exploring the Consequences of Over-Apologizing

You might be wondering, what’s the big deal about saying sorry? Isn’t it just a harmless word? In reality, the consequences extend far beyond the surface level. Apologizing excessively seeps into various aspects of our lives, including work environments. Consider the persistent gender pay gap. According to Economic Policy Institute, In 2022, women, on average, earned 22.2% less than men, with even greater inequity for Black and Hispanic women. Over-apologizing reinforces the notion that women are somehow lesser, keeping us out of our power and perpetuating the idea that we are always in the wrong.

Strengthening Your Professional Image – Ditching Apologies for Confidence at Work

For instance, if a woman arrives two minutes late to a meeting, she might start the interaction by over-apologizing, thereby diminishing her confidence and allowing others to perceive her as someone who has done something wrong. This constant reinforcement of guilt and shame is unnecessary and unfair, shaping societal expectations that being human is not okay for women. To begin to break free from this cycle, we can make simple yet powerful changes in our language. Instead of automatically uttering “I’m sorry,” we can shift to saying “thank you for your patience.” This small adjustment can pave the way for a transformative shift in how we perceive ourselves and our actions. 

A Personal Story: One Apology is Enough

Recently, I had a breakfast plan with a highly successful and inspiring woman whom I deeply admire. For the first time in years, I slept through my alarm clock (I blame the earplugs I’m using to block out NYC noise.)  I had kept her waiting for half an hour. In the past, I would have apologized over and over again and shamed myself for oversleeping. But this time, I opted to bring compassion to myself for having a “human moment” and to apologize once. While she was absolutely owed an apology for my delay, I did not want to spend our precious time together apologizing over and over again. To my surprise when I arrived, she responded with understanding and empathy, reassuring me that she’s also “been there.” This experience taught me a valuable lesson—when we over-apologize and dwell in self-pity, we miss out on the present moment.

Your feelings don’t need an apology

The most difficult and most pervasive habit I’ve found myself in is apologizing for my feelings, especially when it comes to crying. Shedding tears is not a sign of weakness but a healthy emotional release. In fact, tears release oxytocin and endorphins, contributing to our overall well-being. When a friend or someone close to you starts to apologize for their tears, remind them that there’s no need to apologize and create a safe space for them to express their emotions fully. This not only empowers women to embrace their emotional range but also paves the way for a new generation that doesn’t feel the need to apologize for being themselves.

Furthermore, it’s essential to avoid justifying our feelings. When we find ourselves trying to rationalize why we feel a certain way, we limit the time we allow ourselves to fully experience and process those emotions. Sometimes, there’s no logical explanation for our emotional responses, and that’s perfectly okay.

Embracing Imperfections Without Apology

We must also stop apologizing for our appearance. How many times have you walked up to a friend, exclaiming, “I look crazy today, I’m a mess. I didn’t have time to do my hair/makeup.  I can’t believe I left the house like this”? By doing so, we unintentionally teach others that showing up as our authentic selves, exactly how we are is some sort of problem that is owed an apology. Similarly, apologizing for the tidiness of our homes sends the message that we should feel ashamed if things aren’t perfectly in order. It’s time to challenge these expectations and embrace the fact that messy buns, mismatched socks, or a bit of toothpaste on a tank top are all part of being human and not worthy of an apology.

Conclusion; Building Workplace Confidence and Breaking the Apology Habit

In conclusion, when it comes to building workplace confidence, it’s crucial to break the apology habit and start embracing our authentic selves as women. By recognizing the impact of habitual apologizing, particularly on our sense of power and self-worth, we can take the necessary steps to reclaim our confidence and shed the unnecessary burden of guilt and shame. Let’s create a world where women feel empowered to express their emotions, unapologetically cry, and fully embrace their humanity. It’s time to stop apologizing for being who we are and start celebrating the beauty and strength that lies within us.

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