10 Ways To Stop Saying “Sorry” All The Time

How many times have you said the word sorry today? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably: a lot.

Sorry means “feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity, etc.” The only problem is, we don’t always use it that way. Sorry has become a sort of anchor that people attach to all kinds of phrases, whether they’re asking a question, asking for help, or even just moving about in a crowded space. In those instances, we aren’t feeling regret or pity, so why are we apologizing?

Research shows that women tend to over-apologize more often than men, but no matter your identity, psychologists caution that saying sorry all the time can undermine your authority and even impact your self-esteem. If you’re a chronic over-apologizer, it’s time to switch it up. Here are 10 ways to stop saying sorry and start saying what you really mean.

1. Catch yourself in the act.

Before you change your habit of over-apologizing, you have to become aware of when you apologize and why. Is it anytime you feel you’re in someone’s way? Or maybe whenever you want to ask a question during a meeting? Start to notice when sorry comes out of your mouth during times when you haven’t actually done anything wrong. Try asking a trusted friend or colleague to point it out to you or even having a day where you write down a tick mark every time you say it.

2. Think about why you apologize.

Has sorry become a filler word? Maybe it gives you something to say when you aren’t sure what else to say, or maybe it’s a way of dealing with anxiety or a lack of confidence in certain situations. Understanding why you apologize all the time will help you identify situations for which you could brainstorm some other words and phrases to have in your arsenal instead.

Sometimes an apology is called for. Here are 10 ways to express that.

3. Say “thank you,” not “sorry.”

When you’re ready to start replacing the word sorry in your vocabulary, here’s an easy trick: say “thank you” instead. This is especially helpful at work or in other places where saying sorry might come off as less authoritative. Thank you turns an apologetic statement into one that exudes confidence. Here are some examples:

  • Instead of Sorry for being late, try Thanks for waiting.
  • Instead of Sorry for the late notice, try I’m so glad you could make it.
  • Instead of Sorry for complaining, try Thanks for listening.
  • Instead of Sorry for the mistake, try Thank you for catching that.

4. Use a different word.

Are you using sorry in place of a word or phrase that might work better? For example, when you need something at a restaurant or want to reach in front of someone at the grocery store to grab an item, do you automatically apologize? If so, you may be using sorry as a default, so try to choose some replacement words. Here are some ideas:

  • pardon
  • excuse me
  • after you
  • oops

5. Focus on solutions.

We all make mistakes, and apologizing when we really mess up is a good idea. But you don’t need to jump straight to sorry every time there is a minor mishap. In situations at work or even in conversations with friends and loved ones, it can be helpful and more proactive to lead with what you’re going to do to fix the problem. In these situations, try one of these alternatives:

  • I hear you, and I’m going to [list actions you plan to take].
  • Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’m going to work on it.
  • This didn’t go as planned, but I’m going to make it right.
  • Can you give me feedback on how I can do this differently?

6. Ask a question.

Sometimes we use sorry as a way of getting someone’s attention, as in, “Sorry, but I have a question.” The only problem is that beginning your sentence with an apology has the potential to make you sound more passive or make others see you as less authoritative. Instead of defaulting to apologizing whenever you have something to say, try these alternatives:

  • Instead of Sorry to bother you, try Is now a good time to talk?
  • Instead of Sorry for interrupting, try Can I expand on that?
  • Instead of Sorry for getting in the way, try Can I squeeze past you?
  • Instead of Sorry, but I have a question, try Is now a good time for questions?

7. Ban sorry from your emails.

In person, the word sorry can slip out without notice. But over email you have the opportunity of more time to think about what you really want to say. Take advantage of that by banning the word sorry from all communications. After you write an email, read through it quickly and delete every instance of sorry or other passive language, and replace it with some of the words or phrases above. It’s a small step that can go a long way towards making you sound more self-assured.

Follow our tips on how to write a professional email.

8. Practice empathy, not sympathy.

Sorry is a go-to word when something bad happens to someone else, but it isn’t always the best word. Sorry conveys sympathy, and it focuses on how the speaker feels rather than the recipient. Plus, because the word is so overused, it can sometimes sound insincere. Instead of jumping right to sorry in these situations, practice empathy by acknowledging the other person’s feelings over yours. Some examples include:

  • That must have been really difficult.
  • I know you’re really hurting right now.
  • Thank you for trusting me with this.
  • What can I do to make this easier for you?

9. Prep before important conversations.

If you know ahead of time that you’re going into a tough conversation where you might be tempted to over-apologize, rehearse some other lines to use instead. For example, if you need to talk to a boss about a problem at work, think about how the conversation might go and choose a few sorry alternatives from earlier on this list. Practice what you’ll say ahead of time. When alternative words and phrases are fresh in your mind, they’ll be easier to remember and work into the conversation naturally.

10. Get an accountability partner.

It might be easier to change your habits if you have a little help. If you have a friend, partner, or colleague that you trust, let them know you’re trying to delete sorry from your vocabulary, and see if they’re willing to help by privately pointing out when they hear you over-apologizing. They may notice times when you apologize that you’ve overlooked, and knowing they’re on the lookout might motivate you to change your ways even more. After a while, your sorry habit will be a thing of the past. Sorry, not sorry.

Express your gratitude by learning alternative ways to say "thank you!"

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