I’m sorry, I just woke up and I’m a little tired. I’m not usually like this. I can do much better. This piece is just a rough draft. I’m a writer, I mean, I want to be a writer… well, I guess we all have dreams. I don’t want to sound too self-centered until I make it, so I’m sorry if I offended you by calling myself a writer when I haven’t even been published. It’s just that you are so accomplished and I am not. Please forgive me for this awful piece of work.
It’s easy to get into the habit of constantly apologizing for yourself. I hear people doing it all the time in job interviews, meetings, and casual conversations. I’m sure they are well intentioned, but what they don’t realize is that apologies are like rewards, promises, and cuss words: they lose effectiveness if used too frequently.
When I travel, I often hear apologies on airplanes. The flight attendants take every opportunity to say, “Once again, we’re sorry the plane was five minutes late.” The captain gets on the intercom and apologizes some more begging everyone to come back to the airline. The first officer blames the weather and then throws his apology into the mix. The catering guy, fuel operator, and ground crew are all waving from the tarmac mouthing “sorry” and shrugging their shoulders. The agent inside the terminal has her hands and face pressed up against the glass mouthing, “I didn’t know.”
I had no idea the flight was behind schedule before all of this madness, but after the fifth or sixth apology, I’m getting fired up. The more they wallow in their own guilt, the more uncomfortable the passengers get. Not only are we late, but the food is awful. And that reminds me, I don’t appreciate having to fly half way to the North Pole just to get to the next state over. By the time the plane lands, the cabin is almost up in riot!
Well, maybe it’s not quite that bad. The point is that there is a time and place for a proper apology, and too much is just overkill.
A weak apology is a sign of insecurity. The constant apologizer is trying to compensate for some sort of lack, but is unknowingly making the situation worse.
One place that really seems to bring out apologies is a job interview. You can see an excruciatingly painful display of this kind of apologetic meltdown by watching American Idol auditions. I don’t watch the show regularly, but I have seen enough of it to get so embarrassed for the contestants that I have to shut the TV off.
The contestants are either good, bad but delusional, or apologizers. It doesn’t matter whether or not the apologizers are good, they kill their chances with their insecurities.
The sad thing is that this type of behavior goes on all the time in interviews and meetings everywhere. Too often, the interviewee is so insecure that they keep saying “sorry” as if to say “I am wasting your time.” Why would you hire someone like that?
By apologizing, you are putting yourself in a subservient position to the person who is on the receiving end of the apology. There are definitely situations when this is appropriate. If the person feels wronged by you, putting yourself under them temporarily is often what they need to make the situation better.
A problem arises when you put yourself in a subservient position to someone who isn’t expecting it. If you apologize for something that the other person wasn’t offended by, it can start to get uncomfortable.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that when someone throws themselves at my feet in unexpected apology, I feel uncomfortable. I sometimes even feel offended.
Planting the Wrong Seed
An unexpected apology can often plant a negative seed. Bad waiters make this mistake all the time. Restaurants are zones of controlled chaos, so things never go as planned. If the waiter apologizes for every little delay and mix-up, the guests would be reminded of what a horrible experience they were having. On the other hand, if he uses his apologies sparingly, reserving them only for the most obvious screw-ups, the guests won’t even know that their food took a little longer to get there.
Most people get their cues for how to react from other people. By apologizing, you are planting the seed that something is wrong. Apologizing to a potential employer is planting the seed that you are not a very good candidate.
When Apologizing is Appropriate
The opposite of an apologizer is someone who doesn’t take responsibility for anything. It is not my intention to encourage this type of behavior, but to encourage people to use their apologies at appropriate times.
When you have offended or hurt another person, it is important that you apologize sincerely. It is easy to tell when someone is being insincere, so take the appropriate time and approach to give the object of your apology the appropriate respect.
If you wish to be successful, it is important to have a successful mindset, even before you are. This means having confidence and not selling yourself short. Don’t be an “aspiring writer,” be a writer. Don’t be an “aspiring actor,” be an actor. Don’t apologize for not having an academy award when you go on auditions!
Be confident. Project security. Take responsibility for your actions, but don’t over-apologize. You have all the skills necessary to make it in your brain. Get out there and take on the world!