Use your sick days without feeling like you have to apologize: Getting sick isn’t a failure, it’s a fact of life. How many times a day do you say, “I ‘m sorry?” If you can’t remember because you say it so often, it might be time to reconsider this habit.
“Oftentimes we find ourselves reflexively apologizing without really knowing why,” says Lisa Mirza Grotts, etiquette expert and founder of the Golden Rules Gal. However, this apologetic reflex may be doing you more harm than good. “Research shows that when we keep saying ‘I’m sorry’ it makes us sound weak and less respected by our peers,” she explains, adding that in some situations it may even make you take responsibility for things you shouldn’t. “Instead, try flipping the script to saying ‘thank you’ instead. It’s more positive and makes you appear stronger and in control.”
Still, some people may think that not apologizing may be rude and insulting and that it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to good manners. Not so, Grotts says, and to help you figure out the apologizing protocol, we asked the experts to share common things that people apologize for that they shouldn’t.
Taking a sick day
Everyone gets sick from time to time. That’s normal and definitely not a failure. However, too many people fear using their sick days and apologize to their boss and coworkers when they really need to use them. Apologizing for using your PTO is totally unnecessary and can hurt you in the long run, says Kim Chronister, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills, California.
“You are allowed to have personal downtime as long as it’s not excessive,” she says, adding that this includes mental health days. “Just be matter of fact. No need to spill emotional details at work or make excuses. Simply take a sick day and don’t apologize for it.”
Not buying a birthday gift for a friend
Buying someone a gift for their special day is a nice gesture, but it shouldn’t be an obligation, particularly if you’re in a difficult financial position, Chronister says. “If you can’t afford to buy a gift, there’s no reason to apologize,” she explains. “If they truly love and care about you they will see your presence as the gift.”
Interrupting someone occasionally
Interrupting someone as they speak is a common etiquette mistake and one that you can try to avoid if it’s a frequent problem. But occasionally we all do it, so you don’t have to ruin the conversation with an apology if it’s an accidental faux pas, Chronister says.
“It’s okay to interrupt as long as it’s not mal-intended. It’s just about getting your point across and it happens sometimes,” she explains. Another issue is that some people, particularly men, see apologizing too often as a weakness so learning to apologize less may help you be seen as more confident and competent, she adds.
Saying “no” to being the classroom parent
“You should never apologize for saying ‘no’,” Grotts says. You have the right to protect your time and other resources, to stand up for yourself, and to express your own opinions — unapologetically.
Not knowing the right answer
With Google at our fingertips, it might seem like there’s no justification for you not to know something, but technology doesn’t have all the answers (and often has the wrong ones) and we’re all in the learning process, Grotts says. “If you don’t know the answer to something, just say so,” she says. “Instead of apologizing, see it as a good opportunity to learn something new.”
A partner’s table manners
“Never apologize for someone else’s behavior — that’s their job,” Grotts says. Although it may be tempting to apologize for your partner, it is necessary to note that you are not responsible for the actions of another person and that it’s not reflective of your own, she says. Worse than that, apologizing for their poor behavior may accidentally put you in a situation that will negatively affect you, she adds.
Stating an opinion on politics
Politics, religion and other hot-button issues may feel too problematic to even discuss these days unless you know that the other person already shares similar beliefs, but to remain silent is a great disservice to society by discouraging open discourse and sharing ideas. “Don’t apologize for having an opinion and for sharing it,” Grotts says. “Even though it may only be your judgment, it’s okay to voice it even if it’s not based on fact. That’s why it’s your opinion!”
Not responding immediately to a text
Having constant access to phones means that people now demand immediate replies to their messages, emails, or calls. But just because someone expects it doesn’t mean you need to do it— and you definitely don’t need to apologize for it, says Robin H-C, behaviorist, life coach, and author of Life’s In Session.
This implies that any text or call should be your top priority, but if you take the time to respond to all the non-urgent issues you would never get anything else done, she explains. Instead, she suggests answering when you’re ready to skip any excuses and go straight to the matter at hand.
RSVP’ing no to a party invitation
Apologizing when refusing an invitation may feel respectful, but it’s probably not honest, and in the long run, honesty will serve you better, H-C says. It’s all right to say no to invitations without giving an apology or justification; if it’s someone you’d like to see at a different date, then tell them that and make arrangements to meet in the future.
“Are you really sorry you can’t go? If you were then you would find a way to make it work,” she says. “Usually people aren’t sorry, they just don’t want to go and apologizing is a passive way to avoid telling them that.”
A spouse’s anger
Have you ever felt the need to apologize for other people’s feelings? If so, it’s time to take a closer look at your boundaries, particularly in relationships, says H-C. “People who were traumatized or bullied as kids often make themselves responsible for the emotional climate of those around them,” she explains. “The truth is, you are not responsible for another adult’s emotions and you should not apologize for them.”
A messy house
Do you live in constant fear of a neighbor or a friend just “popping in” to say hello because of the state of your home and then find yourself apologizing over and over again for the mess? “You’re the one who is living there in the mess, not them,” she says. “Really you’re apologizing to them for witnessing how you live, and you shouldn’t need to do that.” Instead, she says the best way to deal with this situation is a little humor—” So I’m thinking about becoming a professional organizer…”
When someone goes out of their way to help you
Many people say “I’m sorry” when they just mean “thank you,” says Amy Rollo, LPC-S, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of the Heights Family Counseling in Houston, Texas. For example, if you’re going to a full restaurant and the staff is working hard to find a place for you, instead of apologizing for discomfort, express your appreciation for their hard work, she explains. You and the other person will feel much happier by focusing on the most important aspects of helping others.
Going to the store in sweats
In an ideal world, we’d all only leave the house once we were perfectly coiffed and put together. Real-life, though, means that people get sick, wake up late, run out of hot water, have a defective washing machine, or have any number of conditions that make them go out in public looking less than their best. And that’s all right, Rollo says. “Don’t apologize for your appearance. If you are tired or stressed, just own that you are not perfect and this is part of you,” she says.
Crying during an argument
This doesn’t mean that you have a free reign to meltdown on anyone in your path — how you show your emotions — but you don’t have to apologize for just feeling a certain way. Many people have been taught to believe they “shouldn’t” feel sad or angry, but negative feelings are part of human life, and you are allowed to be human. “Emotions should never be apologized for, you are allowed to feel what you feel,” Rollo says.
Toddler temper tantrums
It’s necessary, although somewhat frustrating, part of their evolution from infants to functioning adults — a fact that more people would do well to remember. So while you’re supposed to help manage your child as best you can, you don’t have to apologize for their outbursts, Rollo says.
There’s no parent on the planet who didn’t have a little cry, scream or explosive vomit at the most inappropriate moment. “Instead of saying you’re sorry, let others know that you understand this is a difficult situation, and you thank them for being patient,” she says.
Turning down sex
Some people believe they need to apologize for not wanting to have sex, and that may trigger tension in a relationship, says Melanie Gonzalez, LMFT, a marriage therapist and a family therapist in Irvine, California. But your sex drive is much like any other appetite. Would you apologize for not being hungry?
“It’s very normal to not be in the mood sometimes and apologizing for that implies that you should always want sex,” she explains. “Man or woman, sometimes you are not in the mood and that should be okay and accepted by your partner without them taking it personally.”
A delayed flight
“Don’t apologize for things that are out of your control like a delayed flight, bad weather, or illness,” says Amy Ricke, MD, a psychiatrist with Your Doctors Online, adding that these things just happen and most people will be understanding, even if it messes up their plans. “Say something to acknowledge the other person’s disappointment or inconvenience, but do not take responsibility for events or circumstances you have no role in.”
Asking a question
Apologizing before asking a question is very common, particularly in women, says Dr. Ricke. But not only is this unnecessary, but it could also destroy your career and your relationship. “You have the right to get more information or gain clarification, whether it be at home, work, or elsewhere,” she says. “If you feel that you are interrupting or inconveniencing the other person, you can say ‘I have a few questions for you, please let me know when it is a good time to ask’.”
Not coming home for the holidays
Holidays are the perfect time for seeing your family — unless you don’t want to, and that’s all right, says Stacy Cohen, MD, psychiatrist and founder of The Moment. There are several reasons why you may not want to go home for a holiday, but the bottom line is that your feelings are legitimate.
“So many people spend years suffering through the holidays, even though spending time with family isn’t the healthiest choice for them, they do it anyway,” she says. “You’re allowed to draw boundaries with your family and you don’t need to apologize for enforcing them.” Doing this may even improve your relationships. “You’ll feel less resentment towards your family, and you may even look forward to seeing them on your own terms,” she adds.
Turning down a Tinder date
Forget about bars and clubs, these days dating apps have become the most popular place for couples to meet. Individuals are also less shy about asking for a date from behind the phone, but the rules of the dating protocol are the same online as they are in real life, and this includes the right to decline a date unapologetically, says Dr. Cohen. “If your answer is no, be clear,” she says. “Be honest and direct — but don’t be sorry. That just makes the rejection confusing!”
Taking time to be alone
No matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert (or an ambivert!), every once in a while, everyone needs to be alone. But despite this being a very simple human need, many people feel bad for taking time for themselves and feel the need to apologize for self-care, says Clinton Moore, PhD, Clinical Psychologist and founder of Cadence Psychology in North Sydney, Australia. “Self-care is an important part of maintaining our own resilience and not something to be apologized for,” he says. “A great way to handle this is to let people know your plan ahead of time so they don’t feel like you are brushing them off.”
If people have contradictory beliefs, such as differing religious opinions, it can be difficult to navigate. On many occasions, one person would feel obligated to apologize for their personal beliefs because they don’t want to offend or annoy the other person, Moore says. “There is no such thing as right or wrong values. They are all equally valid,” he says. “Instead of saying you’re sorry, take the time to listen to the other person’s perspective, thank them for their input, but politely say that it seems the two of you might value different things.”
For every little thing
Have you ever met someone who apologizes for the slightest mistake? Many people feel obligated to apologize for any minor error, but this behavior may potentially damage their relationship, says Dr. Moore.
“Everyone makes little mistakes; from forgetting to pick up something at the shops to repeatedly not turning on the washing machine before bed. These are all perfectly normal things that you don’t want to start apologizing for,” he says. “When you start apologizing for trivial mistakes you run the risk of shifting the dynamic of the relationship and placing yourself in a subservient position which is not good for a healthy relationship.” You can recognize the mistake and validate their frustration without apologizing for it, he adds.
“You should never have to apologize for tending to your needs,” Dr. Moore says. The trick is to learn to compromise while still being assertive about what you need, he says. “Remember that assertiveness doesn’t mean always getting what you want, it means being clear about what you need,” he says.
A home-cooked meal
Often what people really are looking for in an apology is reassurance, says Haleh Stahl, a licensed clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills, California. For example, if you spend hours preparing a home-cooked meal, and nobody says anything about it, you will be tempted to apologize for finding confirmation that the food was good and that your guests enjoy it.
But the reality is that you’ve made the food! This is fantastic! So instead of apologizing, only inquire specifically what they think of the meal (or suppose they enjoyed it as evidenced by their empty plates), she says.