how can I stop my office’s “I’m sorry” culture?

A reader writes:

Do you have any advice on how to stop the “I’m sorry” culture in the workplace?

I’m finding my colleagues and even my manager have created an extreme case of this culture, saying they’re sorry for being out sick, sorry for asking a question, sorry for needing to leave early to pick up their kids. Even when I tell them they don’t need to be sorry for these things, it continues. Surely they’re not sorry for life happening, but it creates this cloud of guilt in the office that’s difficult to shake. Do you have any advice on dealing with this?

In a lot of cases, “I’m sorry” doesn’t really mean “I’m sorry”; it’s just a social nicety that conveys “I know that what I’m saying will be inconvenient or less than ideal for you and I want to acknowledge that.”

And if that’s how people are using it, you risk being a little annoying if you respond to it every time with “you don’t need to be sorry.” In cases like those, it’s more gracious to take it as the person intended (as an acknowledgement of inconvenience) and not get hung up on the wording.

But if you’re seeing it create or reinforce guilt in people, and if you genuinely believe people feel they’re expected to apologize for being out sick or needing to ask a question, that’s worth addressing.

How to do that depends on what your role is. If you’re a manager or otherwise have some authority, you could address this either individually with people or (if it’s widespread) with your whole team. I’d focus primarily on the part about people taking time away from work, since that goes deeper than “I’m sorry” and gets into how people look at their jobs and the company’s expectations of them. You could say something like this: “I’ve noticed a pattern of people apologizing when they need to be out sick, leave early for a personal emergency, or otherwise take time away from work. While I know this might be semantics in a lot of cases, my sense is that people do feel like they’re somehow letting down the company or their coworkers when that happens. I want to be really clear that that’s not the case. We’re humans, and we’ll have human needs come up, and we’ve built time off and flexibility into our benefits package here because of that. No one should feel like they’re messing up or doing anything that requires an apology if they need time off.”

And then, of course, you need to make sure that’s reinforced in an ongoing way. If other managers act put out when someone needs time away from work, that’s going to destroy the credibility of your message. So you need to make sure that your organization’s culture and the behavior of other managers are really in sync with this message before you take it on.

But if you’re not a manager, you have less standing to take this on. You could point it out to your manager and suggest tackling it the way I’ve described above, or you could try occasionally pointing out what you’ve noticed to colleagues who seem like they might be receptive. But there can also be real power in modeling a different way of doing things — so in this case, unapologetically saying things like “I’m going be out tomorrow” and “Can you clarify X?” “I need to jump in here” and so forth, and letting people see that it sounds perfectly normal (and not rude) to just be matter-of-fact rather than remorseful.

{ 252 comments… read them below }

  1. ExcelJedi*

    I empathize with the LW, but totally agree with Alison not to get hung up on this. My dad died when I was barely a teenager, and to deal with my discomfort of it all, I developed a knee-jerk reaction. Anytime someone said “I’m sorry” I said “Why? It’s not your fault.”

    It took me several years to figure out that that didn’t actually help – it just made things more awkward, made people feel bad about themselves, and prolonged the conversation. A simple “thank you” and then moving on works much better.

    1. mark132*

      This is kind of a weakness of the English language in a way. English doesn’t do a great job distiguishing between “I’m sorry” (I apologize for doing something wrong)/(I sympathize with you for this bad thing that happened in your life)/(I realize what happened may have been an inconvience for you, though I really didn’t do anything wrong)/(other things as well).

      I’ve taken to only using sorry for the first one, apologizing for having done something wrong. I try and use other phrases for the other situations.

      1. Em*

        I use it a lot in a “pardon me” or “excuse me” kind of way. I’m in someone’s way/someone is in my way — “Can I get past” “Oh, sorry” or “Sorry, can I get by?” Or you need to ask a question, especially if it’s interrupting someone’s flow of speech, “Sorry, can you repeat that?” But I’m not actually experiencing regret at those times.

        1. dsdfsdf*

          I came here to say the same thing. In South Africa that’s pretty much how we use “sorry”.

      2. Caffeine Cowgirl*

        English does a fine job of distinguishing between those situations, as your examples illustrate. The issue is social convention, in which “I’m sorry” is utilized as a shortcut to covering diverse emotional ground. Another example is the use of “How are you”, usually as a proxy for a greeting and only sometimes as a true inquiry. I understand why the OP is bothered by frequent, inexact use of “I’m sorry” (I’m sorry, but I am, too ;) ), but I’m also with ExcelJedi that pointing it out is unlikely to produce the desired effect of a more exact use of language.

        1. mark132*

          I did for me. One of the reasons I try to not use sorry as an expression of sympathy is being asked by people why I was apologizing when I didn’t do anything wrong. So I started using other phrasing.

          1. Yorick*

            But those people were just being silly, really. Reasonable people understand that if I say I’m sorry about their dad’s death, I’m not confessing to murdering him.

                1. Thlayli*

                  That is literally what it means. Saying “I’m sorry” for someone’s loss is a perfectly correct use of the English language. I’m not getting this idea that it only means “I apologise”. That’s just not true.

                2. boo bot*

                  Yeah, I have always found it infuriating when people take a sympathetic “I’m sorry” as an apologetic “I’m sorry” – I am sure some people are genuinely misunderstanding (and in fairness, when dealing with English, confusion is the only thing that makes sense sometimes!)

                  But more often I’ve seen people do it mockingly. Relevant XKCD in signature.

              1. Julia*

                After the terror attack in Manchester last year, the national Japanese news channel took Ariana Grande’s “I’m so sorry” and translated it to mean “I apologize”. I really hope they fired that translator…

                1. kiwimusume*

                  I didn’t follow the news about the attack closely, but I do remember social media posts saying that Ariana Grande had some pretty intense self-blame going on, so I’m willing to believe that she did mean it as in “I apologise”. She SHOULDN’T have felt like it was something to say “I apologise” about, but from everything I heard, it sounds like she did.

            1. Augusta Sugarbean*

              Yes! Maybe it’s some sort of regional figure of speech difference or something? I have never understood the “Why? It’s not your fault.” response. (ExcelJedi, this isn’t directed at you. You were just a kid.) People who use “it’s not your fault”, do they really think I’m saying “I’m sorry for what I did.”? It makes no sense to me.

              1. Someone else*

                When people do that I take it as the person essentially conveying “I want you to stop saying that to me”. Some people reject the “sorry” of sympathy in this way because they’re just sick of hearing it a zillion times, or find it an empty platitude, not because they don’t understand it’s just an expression of sympathy. It’s basically lashing out from one’s own grief to convey that what was likely intended as a neutral-to-kind statement was actually unwelcome. I tend not to begrudge the grieving that feeling, should they have it.

                If someone did the “why, it’s not your fault” to someone using sorry in a “pardon me” sense, it’d read a bit more rude/intentionally obtuse to me.

                1. boo bot*

                  To clarify what I said above – I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that response from someone actually grieving, more in the context of ordinary tales of woe (“I missed the bus and it was raining and then I realized I’d forgotten my pants!” “Oh no! I’m sorry,” “Why are you sorry?”)

                  In those contexts it has always come across to me as breaking the flow of a fairly normal interaction in order to mildly insult me. I don’t generally have a problem with teasing that falls flat (we’re all human), but there is something about its being a response specifically to an expression of empathy that feels like a rebuke.

                  Which is of course what you are saying! And I think when it’s someone in a serious situation, that does totally make sense. But I encountered it often enough in college to wonder if the empathetic
                  “sorry” was a regionalism, only to later realize that everyone who pretended not to understand it would eventually be a little mean to me in other ways, too.

                  For anyone else who runs into this commonly (I run into it far less not that I am not so young. Hmm…) I found it helpful to respond with “I’m empathizing, not apologizing,” in a cold tone, or, with people I otherwise liked: “Oh but it is indeed my fault,” in an ominous tone.

              2. Cat owner*

                My boyfriend does this. When he does, I answer “I’m sorry FOR you” in a condescending voice, which makes him laugh.

                I probably wouldn’t do that to anyone else though. XD

              3. Liles*

                They’re probably the same people who respond to “Have a nice day!” with “Don’t tell me what to do!”

              4. Janet Aldrich*

                I have a lot of friends in the UK and “I’m sorry” is used when bumping into a doorjamb, tripping on a crack in the sidewalk … pretty much always and for things that don’t have anything to do with the way it’s used here in the States. (Hope I don’t offend anyone British by saying this, I am sorry if so).

            2. Michaela Westen*

              My friends and I say “I’m sorry for your loss”. Makes it a little more clear.

            3. nonymous*

              In the specific context of saying “sorry” to express sympathy for death – and speaking only from my personal experience of losing a parent in my early twenties – there are a lot of people who use the I’m sorries as a social nicety. As in, the acquaintance isn’t going to actually do anything in support (because maybe the interaction + relationship doesn’t warrant it!) but is still saying “I’m sorry for your loss”. And then I was expected to observe some kind of social nicety in response.
              Which, when repeated in volume is exhausting and certainly exceeded my emotional bandwidth on many occasions. Being extremely flippant was purely a coping mechanism.

              I’ve also heard people respond in that vein as a polite way of conveying their anger at the situation.

      3. Antilles*

        Same. I’ve tried to stop using “I’m sorry” in the sympathy sense and instead go with something that actually conveys direct sympathy/empathy. Phrases like “That’s awful”, “Oh man, is there anything I can do?”, or even just a single four-letter word all work much better than just ‘I’m sorry’.

      4. Becky*

        I actually do the inverse, I tend to use “I’m sorry” for all the other meanings but when I have made a mistake or done something wrong I use “I apologize”.

        1. mark132*

          Interesting, given the relationship of the word “sorry” to “sorrow” you probably are closer to the original meaning of the word.

        2. Jess*

          I do this too. During undergrad I was a server at a restaurant whose owner made us use “I apologize” or “my apologies” instead of “I’m sorry” when dealing with customers. As weird as that requirement seemed at first, I found that I liked the clarity and have used it since (at least in professional contexts). I stick to “I’m sorry” for sympathy, etc., because I don’t have an alternative that is both clear and feels right to me to say.

      5. Flash Bristow*

        Yep, this. I was taught as a child that sorry means “I sincerely regret my actions, and I will endeavour never to repeat them”. And nothing else. Which got me into a lot of problems as a child because I wasn’t going to “just say sorry and make up” if I didn’t feel I was in the wrong!

        Years later when I met my husband, I noticed his habit of saying “oh, I’m sorry”. It confused me. I am in pain? “Oh, I’m sorry”. What? Why? It wasn’t his fault I was hurting! We actually had to have an explicit conversation about it before I learnt that he meant “I’m sorry to hear that’s happening to you” – and he meant it, it wasn’t just a platitude but a sympathetic acknowledgement.

        I still won’t say I’m sorry for my actions if I’m not. I’ll say “I’m sorry you feel like that” which I know is a fauxpology… But at least it’s true. But I think “I’m sorry, but I’m too ill to come into work today” is – as Alison said – just an acknowledgement of the inconvenience, not a genuine taking of weight on their shoulders. It’s hard to change how people naturally speak, and unless it causes difficulty or offence, it’s probably best just to accept that English doesn’t always have enough words for all uses, and roll with it.

    2. Specialk9*

      I’m really glad you realized this. Those people must have been thinking some version of “Uh yeah we both know I didn’t murder your mother, what the hell, I was just trying to acknowledge your loss.” But you were also trying to figure out how to handle a new, emotionally charged situation, and being flippant probably helped you. There’s a lot of trial and error, which is why a lot of us rely on convention to keep us from foot-in-mouth.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      Look at the origins for sorry – Old English sārig ‘pained, distressed.

      So when someone says “sorry” they are saying “I’m pained by this.”

      In short, “I’m sorry” is an utterly appropriate usage. The real problem for the OP is not understanding the full definition.

      Don’t die on this hill.

    4. Bea*

      The full sentence should be “I’m sorry to hear that.”

      However as we evolve we leave out the full sentence and respond with a shorter version of which we get “oh man, I’m sorry!” And then your knee jerk kicks in.

      Because if you respond with “why tho?” to a “I’m sorry for your loss” I’m going to assume you didn’t hear me right.

    5. Not A Morning Person*

      Exactly. I’m sorry is very often an expression of sympathy and to assume that it is a apology is pretty annoying and disrespectful to people who use it to express their sympathy for an inconvenience or a loss. Try to assume good and appropriate intent.

    6. Jennifer Thneed*

      Me too. My father died just before I turned 8, and nobody gave me any advice on how to handle conversations. So my sister and I had this experience more than once:

      Person, Usually Adult: Asks something about “your father”
      Me or sis: My father is dead
      Adult: Oh, I’m sorry

      And honestly? At 10 years old, I didn’t know what to say in response to that, and it was a real conversation stopper and I often felt put on the spot. And since I didn’t know better, I would also say, “Oh, it wasn’t your fault”. It took me until sometime in my 20’s to figure out that “Thank you” and moving on was the thing, but of course by then it didn’t come up nearly as often.

      Fistbumps to you, ExcelJedi

    1. Jill_P*

      Do you though? ;) We do like it, let’s be honest!
      (True story: I had a high school friend who apologized to lockers when she bumped into them. And to mosquitoes for killing them. She was a little extreme that way though.)

      1. PsychDoc*

        I automatically apologize to anything I run into, so it results in a lot of apologies to inanimate objects.

    2. Bleeborp*

      I’ve been rewatching Degrassi (the Next Generation although I do also love the original) and these high schoolers say sorry so much, I love it! I’m not Canadian but I do lean towards more apologizing than less; sure, if I’m sick it’s not within in my control and life happens and I’m not sorry for being human BUT can I also not feel bad that it’s inconveniencing a co-worker and apologize for that, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    3. Amber Rose*

      No, that’s pretty much it. I have had to work really hard to stop saying sorry every time I ask a question at work, mostly because it annoys me when people dither about apologizing before getting to the point and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But sorry is practically punctuation in my neck of Canada. It’s a tough habit to break.

    4. Forking Great Username*

      Maybe this is why I’m totally on the yes to saying sorry side…I love 20 minutes from the border and watched a ton of Degrassi growing up, haha.

      1. Keanu Reeves's Patchy Beard*

        During a visit to London in my early 20s, I accidentally stepped on someone’s heel (I still cringe that I was walking close enough to a stranger that I could even do that). We both said sorry!

        1. Gerta*

          Totally standard behaviour in the UK, to the extent I find it rather funny that it would seem so strange to you! I always say sorry if someone bumps into me (or similar) even if it’s not my fault – it’s just a reflex. :-)

        2. Jen the Canuck*

          Take out the bad accents, and this scene really does play out here:

          (Clip from How I Met Your Mother, when Robin tests out the validity of the Hoser Hut bar that Marshall has taken her to by deliberately bumping into another patron, who then apologizes to her)

    5. East Coast Girl*

      It’s so true. A coworker and I, both Canadian, recently had the following exchange.

      Me: [ work stuff, work stuff, work stuff] and…..I’m sorry.

      Him: You really don’t have to say sorry ALL the time! (It’s true. I do.)

      Me: ….[deliberately long awkward pause]….I’m sorry.

      Both of us: *laughing*

      In all seriousness, though, he was able to draw attention to the fact it was driving him nuts without being too jerky about it and I’ve tried to be more mindful about it since. As Amber Rose said, it practically becomes punctuation for a lot of Canadians. It’s an art form, really.

    6. hermit crab*

      Haha, yes, it also extends to certain subcultures/geographic areas in the U.S.; my best friend is from Buffalo, for example, and the amount of apologizing he does blows my little Pennsylvania mind. As far as I can tell, it’s basically a reflex and/or just a way people frame their sentences.

      1. HRM*

        I’m from Rochester, close to Buffalo, and I say sorry about 100 times a day. I do think it’s cultural in this area!

      2. Specialk9*

        Buffalo is so close to Canada though. I feel like the Canadian thing oozes sweetly, like pie filling, across the border.

        I’m way too pleased with that mental image.

          1. Specialk9*

            Noooooo I missed the maple syrup! That was the only perfect option. I’m devastated.

    7. missc*

      It’s the same in the UK, for the most part. It’s very usual here to start a sentence with ‘Sorry to interrupt’, or ‘Sorry – are you busy?’ before asking someone something. It’s less an apology and more an ‘Excuse me’. We do also apologise to people when *they* have bumped into *us*, and I’ve definitely apologised to inanimate objects more than once, mind you.

      1. I heart Paul Buchman*

        In Australia as well. Here it would be very rude to answer sorry with ‘why?’.

        Having said that there is a children’s joke beloved by 8 year old boys that answers ‘sorry’ with ‘why? Did you fart?’. Always followed with peals of laughter.

    8. Dzhymm*

      I had a Canadian working for me as well once:

      Me: “You need to stop apologizing so much!”
      Her: “I’m sorry… uh…” *blush*

    9. PsychDoc*

      You may already know this, but in Canada, there is a law that says that “sorry” is not consider an admission of guilt for the purpose of court proceedings. I find it delightful.

  2. Hills to Die on*

    I’ve heard of saying ‘thanks for understanding that I need to yada yada’ or ‘I appreciate yor flexibility / availability with’ instead of the ‘I’m sorry that I yada yada’. I also saw a study where women apologize much more frequently than men, and ever since I have made an effort to thank instead of apologize. It’s more accurate for what I’m trying to say anyway.

    1. grace*

      I like the idea of ‘thanks for understanding,’ etc., in general — if used infrequently and appropriately. It runs the risk of coming across as presumptuous if it’s used to cover up a mistake or something like that, but for being sick, I think it’s perfect.

    2. Valancy Snaith*

      So, because now I work at Starbucks, I’ve made a concentrated effort to apologize less to customers. So if someone has to wait, when I can help them I’ll greet them with “thanks so much for your patience” or “thanks for waiting” rather than “sorry for your wait.” People genuinely do respond much better. It’s nice to see.

      1. Marthooh*

        “Thanks for waiting” is good in that circumstance because the wait is over. If you thank people ahead of time for putting up with an inconvenience to come, then as grace says, it sounds a bit presumptuous.

        1. Specialk9*

          I wouldn’t take it as presumptuous, I’d see it as a human connecting over something that’s a bit annoying. I’d appreciate it.

    3. Lumen*

      I’ve seen this a lot recently: turn your guilt into gratitude. And especially in situations like the workplace, I do like it. I think it gets a better result.

      One example: my boss tends to apologize for instructing me to correct something that I did wrong when she checks my work (which is a necessary part of the job and one I knew I was signing up for when I accepted the position). There are sad face emojis, even. And honestly, especially if I’m busy and juggling other tasks along with these corrections, the ‘sorry :(‘ actually just irritates me. I’m not sure why, but thinking about it, I really believe I’d have a better reaction if she just thanked me.

      You know what, I think it’s this: thanking me acknowledges MY hard work, my willingness to take correction, and my flexibility in doing the juggling. The sorry-plus-sad-face is about HER emotions in the moment, as if she’s wanting me to deal with her guilt right when she’s already asking more work of me. I don’t think that’s a conscious thing (or that she doesn’t appreciate me!) but I think that’s why I have that kneejerk irritation.

      Anyway, longwinded +1 to “try saying thank you instead of I’m sorry”.

      1. Umvue*

        Yes, this! When I interact with people who frequently have a case of the sorries, I feel like I’m being asked to reassure them constantly. It comes across to me as a kind of backhanded self-centeredness and it’s deeply annoying.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          YES. THIS, thank you! You’ve articulated why it bothers me so much. I don’t want to be in a position of constantly reassuring people.

    4. Emily*

      I also read something years ago about “sorry” vs “thank you” that really stuck with me – I wish I could find that article again. It made me think a lot about what function I was trying to achieve whenever I said “sorry,” and I found that often I was really trying to communicate that I knew something wasn’t ideal and I appreciated someone or their actions. It’s become more intuitive over time for me to use something like “Thanks for taking the time to help me out,” instead of “Sorry to bother you,” but I really like the perspective that this is not something I necessarily need to be sorry about and it’s important to me to acknowledge that the other person has been gracious in their response. At times where it IS something that I am truly sorry for, or is my fault, I find that I’m better served by using “I apologize.” It really is a little thing that’s made a lot of difference in how I feel about the way I communicate with people! (I know it might come off a little touchy-feeling for some people, but I work in positive psychology research, so I guess I can’t help myself!)

      1. Specialk9*

        This is a great point. I also read that a not insignificant portion of the male population hears polite social lubricant “I’m sorry [to hear that this happened in general]” as “I am at fault, I messed up”. That was an eye opener! I’ve been more careful to add the extra words – sorry TO HEAR – “I’m sorry to hear that happened to you!” “I’m sorry to hear that the project went over budget.” I think it conveys that I’m not personally responsible but still sympathetic. (Though if people here disagree or think it’s saying something else, I’d love to hear that.)

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah, I feel like I learned this by experience (wrong way to learn! WRONG WAY!) and I take great pains to try not to apologize, especially in writing, for anything short of a complete disaster that was 100% my fault, in which case I limit to one apologizing statement per communication. (I mean, I will apologize briefly for being late or forgetting the dog shampoo, but not for catastrophic group efforts.)

          This is difficult, as my naturally programmed response to everything is actually: “It is my fault! I claim all blame and punishment! I am Spartacus and I Volunteer as Tribute! No more yelling Y/N?”

          1. boo bot*

            Also, Specialk9, to me “I’m sorry to hear X happened,” sounds very clearly like you’re not taking responsibility for the problem, but frankly, to me, so does “I’m sorry X happened.”

            Personally, I’ve come to assume that the very word “sorry” triggers a Pavlovian blame response in some people and I don’t risk rewording. Your mileage, with any luck, will vary.

            (NB: “I’m sorry X happened” sounds so little like the speaker is taking responsibility for the problem that I tend to think of it as a weasel-apology. “You stepped on my foot!” “I’m sorry that your foot was stepped on.” I’m suspicious of people who hear that framing as not-an-apology when directed at them, but seize on it as a way to shift blame when it’s convenient.)

            1. Specialk9*

              I was speaking only of a situation in which sorry is social lubricant, not an actual apology. Because, agreed, weasel-wording out of a real apology is not cool.

              Or are you saying that anytime you hear “I’m sorry to hear that…” it sounds like a weasel-apology, even if it’s meant to be social lubricant?

        2. TootsNYC*

          One thing I like about “I’m sorry to hear that” is that it feels like more genuine sympathy; “I’m sorry” by itself feels rote, but “I’m sorry to hear that happened to you!” feels like you are actually in the conversation, instead of skating over the surface.

      2. Shinobi*

        YES THIS!

        “Thank you for being patient with me.” “Thank you for listening.” “Thank you for letting me step all over your feet while we were dancing it was fun.”

      3. TootsNYC*

        Or, instead of “sorry to bother you,” which you might say at the beginning (where a’Thank you” would be presumptuous”), I try to say, “Could I ask for your help?” Or “I know this is a monkey-wrench, but I’m going to need to be out.” and THEN I say “thank you” at the end.

    5. Blue*

      I do this, and it generally works well as an acknowledgement that you’re making life harder for someone else. I think that’s a thoughtful thing to do, even if the root cause is out of your control. If I do make it an apology, I often go with something like, “Apologies for the inconvenience,” which feels less personal to me.

    6. OP Here*

      Great advice! I’ve found women are the ones saying “I’m sorry” more often as well.

    7. Ori*

      If women apologize more frequently than men, should women apologize less, or men apologize more?

      Debbie Cameron (a linguist who runs the fantastic “language: a feminist guide” blog) discusses this a bunch — when gender-coded linguistic trends come up, it’s almost always presented as desirable for women to emulate men. Especially in a workplace. Even though, on its face, saying “sorry” to express consideration (e.g. “I know this is inconvenient for you”/”I feel bad that you are in this situation”) as well as contrition (when it’s deserved) isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to be considerate of your coworkers’ feelings. So why is it that we don’t expect men to say “sorry” more often, as opposed to expecting women to say it less? Why is it that female-coded speech is automatically what has to change? Why is masculine speech treated as the standard to aspire to?

      I mean, this isn’t targeted at you specifically — if you’re happy saying “sorry” less often, awesome. But this comes up often in professional advice for women, and I think it’s worth asking why we look at women apologizing and automatically assume they apologize too much, as opposed to looking at men and assuming that they don’t apologize enough.

      1. TootsNYC*

        also–the women in your office right now are dealing with the social codes of “right now.” And maybe they have found that they get what they want more when they play the game in the way that’s expected.

      2. Specialk9*

        Thank you so very very much for the recommendation for that blog. I will be reading more of it!

      3. Courageous cat*

        This is a very interesting point. I err on the side of objectively (at least, I *think* it’s objective) thinking the less sorries said, the better – but I wonder how much of it is influenced by what you mention in this comment.

      4. Mad Baggins*

        I love this! I live in a culture where both men and women apologize frequently and I don’t see anything wrong with it.

  3. The Original K.*

    OP, I’m curious: what’s the ratio of women to men where you work and do the men apologize as much as the women?

      1. JokeyJules*

        I think it’s important to take a look at all the factors involved in this culture issue.
        Women statistically apologizing more than men might be a key factor to the issue.

      2. Yorick*

        And if it’s men apologizing so much, that may explain why it stands out (since it’s usually women who do)

    1. Specialk9*

      I was wondering this too. In the US, apologizing is something women do a lot more than men.

  4. Thlayli*

    I suspect Alison is right and people aren’t actually sorry – it’s just a social nicety. I wonder how much of the guilt is actual and how much is OP reading into it.

    It’s like “how are you” – no one actually means it!

    1. Dr. Doll*

      My team has a tiny bit of this going on, and it’s definitely social performance rather than social nicety. It doesn’t rise to the level that I can call anyone out on it, so I have to smile through the clenched teeth.

    2. OP Here*

      Yes, great point in comparing it to when people say “how are you.” I was glad Alison mentioned it being a social nicety and I should just take it at that – haven’t thought of it from that perspective before. The managers at my previous toxic workplace would frown upon people going to a dr appointment or taking care of anything personal during business hours, so I think that’s why I’m especially sensitive to it.

      1. rldk*

        Post-Toxic Workplace Syndrome is no fun! Definitely try to gauge if there’s something behind the sorry – do people seem hesitant to take time off? If so, follow Alison’s script. If not, just keep being warm and understanding to remind them (and yourself!) that this is normal and part of the workplace.

        1. OP Here*

          Yes, it’s such a difficult syndrome to overcome. It’s amazing how long it has impacted me, I know Alison always says to leave these workplaces as soon as possible – this is why!

    3. Specialk9*

      I USUALLY DO actually care about people when I ask how are you – but I do expect them to pick from a socially acceptable bucket of topics rather than jumping into things that are too personal.

  5. Murphy*

    I also see “sorry” as social nicety like Alison said. I also see the exchange as similar to a “How are you?”/”Good” kind of thing. If I say “Sorry, my daughter is sick, so I need to go pick her up” then I’m definitely expecting something like “No problem, see you tomorrow.” in response.

  6. CM*

    I think the script above only works if you are in a position of power. If you’re part of the rank and file, making pronouncements like, “I want to be really clear that we are all human beings and apologies are not needed,” sounds very presumptuous. I think modeling the behavior you’d like to see works better than singlehandedly trying to change the culture. In individual cases, if someone seems genuinely apologetic for something that’s just life, I think it’s OK to say, “No need to apologize, I’ll take care of it,” as long as it’s not a rote response that sounds like you’re scolding them for saying sorry.

    1. OP Here*

      I’m not a manager but will take Alison’s advice of trying not to say sorry myself for sure. And also when people say they’re sorry, simply taking it as their acknowledgement of inconvenience instead of thinking “oh, I need to feel guilty when these situations come up for me too.”

  7. Dr. Doll*

    Oh gawd, this makes me crazy. Sorry for asking a *question*? That would drive me to *drink*. /jkng

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I used to work with someone who did this. She was also my subordinate. And it DID drive me crazy. She basically apologized for anything and everything. If I asked for a project update, she would apologize if I asked her to change something. I told her many times that the “sorry” was not only unnecessary, it left a negative impression and I wanted her to work on saying “sorry” all the time. I was kind (I think) but firm about it; I wanted her to work on developing into an assertive professional.

      She refused to take me seriously. “This is just how I am! Why should I change?” I’m surprised I don’t have a forehead divot from banging my head on the desk.

      1. OP Here*

        Yes! I have a junior colleague who says sorry before asking every. single. question. I can see now that sometimes it’s a social nicety but all the time does drive me crazy!

        1. Pollygrammer*

          It’s often just sort of an equivalent of “um” or “like.” A little annoying, but pretty much meaningless.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            But there are many times when it isn’t just a verbal tic, and I think it’s important to recognize that. There are so many times where people feel genuine guilt or shame or what have you while they’re going about their professional business, and sometimes the “sorry” is an indicator of lack of confidence or self-esteem. It’s not just that it’s annoying, it’s that in many cases, the “sorry” projects an image that doesn’t serve someone well. Context is everything here, really.

            I’ll put it this way: someone who says “sorry” before every question doesn’t always sound subservient or cowering, as in, “Sorry, do you have the time?” or, “Sorry, when did you need that again?” That’s a verbal tic. “OMG, I’m so sorry to bother you, you look busy…. I’m really sorry I have to ask you this, [even though it is part of my job] but what time do you need that paperwork?” That’s a sign of something other than a verbal tic.

        2. Genny*

          If you’re in a position to mentor this colleague, it would be really nice of you to do it. The habit probably won’t hurt her at this workplace, but it will at others. It would be kind of you to let her know that not everyone is going to see this tic as a social nicety and that it could undermine her authority and expertise as she progresses in her career.

        3. Thlayli*

          In many parts of the British Isles, sorry is used to mean “excuse me” as well as “I apologise” and “I feel sad about”. It sounds like that is the culture in your office too.

        4. Someone else*

          Is it possible it’s effectively shorthand for “sorry for the interruption”? (or even if it isn’t would it feel less cringey if you took it that way, basically, another route to the sorry-as-excuse-me)

          All that said, I find if there is a coworker who ALWAYS prefaces what they say with any phrase, at a certain point the combination of the phrase and the person becomes annoying because you’ve noticed the repetition, not because there’s anything, in a vacuum, wrong with the way they’re using the phrase. So it also might be helpful to recognize if that might be the real issue there.

    2. ele4phant*

      I mean, there’s apologizing at length when and when it’s clear there is an assumption of guilt when none should be made, but “Sorry can I ask you a question” = “Can I interrupt you from what you were doing to ask you a question”? Not a big deal, not a huge sign of insecurity or tentativeness, but just trying to be polite about distracting you from your task at hand.

    1. sunny-dee*

      THIS THIS THIS so much.

      If you say “I’m sorry” when the OBVIOUS context is “I am sorry that you have this rough situation” (or whatever), only a dick would reject that and come back with “why, it’s not your fault.” It’s basically telling someone “why should you care?” It’s just rude, people!

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I agree would you rather someone say “I’m sorry or have them say: “too bad, sucks to be you, or glad its not me” I will take an I’m sorry over those responses any day. This is one of the things about human language it is always changing and evolving (not always for the better) words that used to be harmless

        1. OP Here*

          Yeah, my response to bad news would always be “I’m sorry” to someone. But saying I’m sorry before telling them I need to go pick up my kids early, not so much. But again, what I’m seeing from Alison’s response and the comments, it’s just a social thing I need to be less concerned about.

  8. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t see why this is an issue.

    (…Oops. Sorry about that, LW!)

    (…darn it!)

    Anyway, I kind of get where you’re coming from – some of us think apologies are an admission of guilt, while others do see it as a social lubricant. And the line is fuzzy – I fall into the latter category, generally, but I get annoyed by people who apologize for EVERYTHING. I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I’d just take it in stride to be honest – unless you’re seeing other signs that are making you cautious.

    Also, I’m just curious, is the culture in your area a lot different from what you grew up with? That might just be a disconnect.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      I mean, for what it’s worth, the first definition in the Oxford dictionary is: “Feeling sad or distressed through sympathy with someone else’s misfortune.”

      “Feeling regret or penance” is relegated to number two.

      Both of them are pretty old usages, I think. While it’s absolutely fine to prefer to not say “I’m sorry” as an expression of sympathy and only use it for apologising, it’s a little presumptuous to assume that everyone else should use it that way as well, given how established the first definition is.

      (Not that you’re arguing that, just chiming in.)

      1. bonkerballs*

        Nothing drives me more bonkers or makes me lose a good chunk of my sympathy than someone who replies to an “I’m sorry” that was a clear expression of sympathy with “Why, it’s not your fault.”

        1. Apostrophina*

          Me too! I dated one of those people, and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that they also never apologized for doing any actual wrong things, despite being the self-appointed arbiter of What “Sorry” Means.

        2. fposte*

          Yeah, I think that’s forgivable in, say, a teenager, but once you grow up you should understand the real meaning of the social exchange there.

        3. GoggleEyes*

          My best friend became such when, shortly after her husband died, I responded to her, “Why? You didn’t kill him,” with, “Maybe I did.” Not that I’d recommend it; was lucky she laughed. ;-)

          I have a friend who’s a pain to talk with partly because she’ll tell all this horrible crap that’s going on, and then lecture about how it’s not my fault if I say that I’m sorry. Normally I just say, “Wow, that really sucks” or the like. But if I slip up, I can occasionally derail the Anti-Sorry Train by pointing out I’m a funeral director and altering my default expression of sympathy is not happening. Oddly enough, she also thinks everything is her fault and apologizes for profusely all the time.

          Don’t be that person.

      2. Anon for now*

        Also, feeling regret at dumping extra work on a coworker is normal. Regret and guilt are not the same thing. In that context it is less apology and more expressing that this is not ideal.

      3. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        In LW’s defense, it’s kind of weird that English uses the same phrase to react to eating the last slice of pizza, hearing about a death in someone’s family, and not understanding something! I can imagine that if LW comes from a language that reserves the equivalent of “sorry” for apologies only and moves to…like, Canada, that can be confusing.

        Otherwise, yeah, you’re right. (Although I’m surprised that the sympathy definition is first – usually people are taught the apology definition first (think of kids that are taught to say “I’m sorry” when they do something they shouldn’t).

    2. OP Here*

      Yeah, taking it in stride seems to be the best option. The culture in my area is the same as what I grew up with, but I’ve worked in very toxic work cultures previously, so perhaps that’s where it’s coming from.

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        Okay, so you DO come from a different culture, just not in the sense I thought!

        To play Internet Therapist for a minute, it does sound like at your prior jobs you might have been trained to assume that “sorry” is an admission of guilt. Which…I really don’t know. You might be on guard for red flags but I don’t see any indication in your letter that there’s anything wrong at your current job other than that people say “sorry” a lot. It can be a symptom of things that are wrong, and what got posted doesn’t go into detail about how your office works, but hopefully things are fine.

        One more thing – it sounds like you have a position of authority and are relatively new (since you’re talking about changing the culture). If it’s mostly you that they’re apologizing to, they’re probably just nervous around the new boss, and things might work themselves out over time.

  9. Hallie*

    I’m trying to train myself not to apologize when I correct people on how to pronounce my name.

  10. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I have a new manager in my group and I’m trying to get him out of the habit for apologizing for things he has no control over… In other words, he’ll apologize if another group misses a deadline, if has to pass on bad news, and things like that.

    I told him I was going to get him a ‘sorry’ jar instead of a ‘swear’ jar. Now when he does it I tell him to put ‘a dollar in the jar’. (double when he says sorry for saying sorry). In my mind he’s undermining his confidence and the confidence of those around him when he does this.

    I can sympathize w/the LW. Why apologize for taking PTO or asking a question? These are normal every day occurrences that I can’t imagine being sorry for.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      I think it’s because in this context “sorry” isn’t actually an apology for anything. It’s a way of saying more succinctly “I have a request or comment that may be inconvenient/disappointing/frustrating and here is my way of introducing it with a buffer.” Or even a way to say “excuse me,” i.e., “Sorry, I was wondering if you had a second to show me how you found this on Spreadsheet A?” instead of “Hey, could you show me how you found this on Spreadsheet A?”

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, this. Allison really had it written right. “Sorry for the inconvenience,” perhaps?

        However, in my office, if I didn’t apologize 50-100 times a day I would be in whopping trouble. I need that social lubricant because everyone comes in angry anyway. I already make people mad just by existing in this office, unfortunately.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      It’s because ‘sorry’ isn’t necessarily an apology. It’s also an expression of sympathy, (e.g. “I’m so sorry for your loss”).

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Right, but what I’m saying is there is no reason for sympathy, to feel like there should be a buffer, or an inconvenience. It puts that person constantly apologizing in a subservient position for no reason.

        Don’t get me wrong, if an apology is warranted then by all means express it. But why put yourself in a place to claim responsibility for something or managing others reactions unnecessarily.

        1. Anon for now*

          Because it isn’t an apology. “I’m sorry” can simply be an expression of sympathy or acknowledgement that a situation isn’t ideal and can’t be changed. Someone communicating differently than you prefer doesn’t make them wrong.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            It can be wrong if a person feels they are responsible for managing others feelings and reactions. Putting yourself in that position can affect leadership capabilities ( remember the LW who was not able to manage their employees effectively because the CEO didn’t want any hurt feelings?). It can also cause other people to lose confidence in them.

            1. Anon for now*

              It isn’t really managing people’s feelings or emotions though. It is a social nicety. An acknowledgment that this is not ideal and that he knows that and appreciates what they have to deal with. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t expect them to deal with it. I just don’t see the connection.

              1. ele4phant*

                Yeah, I do realize there are two camps of people, one of which will only use I’m sorry if they are to blame.

                But, I think I’m sorry is a completely legitimate way to just say “I see that this situation is not ideal, and I emphasize with what that means for you.”

            2. Jesmlet*

              To be blunt, if you’re losing confidence in someone because they’re saying the word “sorry”, you’re the one with the problem. Embrace the fact that words have more than one usage and social niceties are a good thing. And to your response below, just as I use sorry to convey sympathy, when I ask reports to do things, I say please and thank you because it’s a social nicety and the polite thing to do even though it’s not needed. Being a polite and considerate person should not diminish ones aura of leadership or ability.

              1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                Please and thank you are totally different than the ‘sorry’s the LW is talking about.

                When it comes out of moderation for the link I think a couple of posters summed up nicely what I have been trying to say.

                Sorry I wasn’t clear (not sarcasm, (ok maybe poking fun at myself a little) trying to lighten the mood here)

                1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

                  Wow… speaking of not being clear. What I meant to say is that I posted a link to a comment below that is probably in moderation right now.

                2. Jesmlet*

                  Lol, I get your point, I just happen to disagree with it. Should I have to thank someone for doing their job? Nah. But I do it anyways because it falls under that column of things we do so that we reinforce how we get along.

                  I think sorry in those contexts are just an expression of sympathy for the things that just happen even if they can’t control it. Sorry I’m sick doesn’t mean I apologize for getting sick, it means I know being one person short can make things take longer. Sorry for asking a question doesn’t mean an admission of guilt for not knowing something, it means I’m taking up a couple minutes of your time and I’m simply acknowledging that.

        2. Jesmlet*

          But sorry (for most people) is not just an apology or claim of responsibility. As far as the subservient aspect, I think that’s a matter of you interpreting that way, not him conveying that. Sorry is more often “sorry for the inconvenience” or “sorry to interrupt” or “sorry, I know this sucks”. Having sympathy for others’ situations is not a subservient position, it’s a human position.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            I think it’s a matter of frequency. If a person is consistently saying sorry for all of these reasons (as this person was that I was referring to) it is excessive IMO and does not reflect well on the person. It becomes more of a tic than an actual meaningful statement.

            1. Anon for now*

              But that is your opinion, not a universal one. If you are his boss then you can impose your preference, but it is far from a universal rule for how to best communicate.

        3. fposte*

          I think the subservience thing is a sometimes thing, though. To me “Sorry” can actually be a power move–I like David Mitchell’s comment that “the rhetorical power of the apology lies in stealing the language of the problem” from the other person. Admittedly that’s a British take, but I think it can work like that in the US, too.

    3. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

      My son is 11 and was recently diagnosed with a lot of issues that have upset all of our normal routines. His reaction is to apologize. He’s started doing it for everything even stuff he has not one bit of control over. We were supposed to go the pool this weekend but the weather was awful. He apologized to us because it was raining. I have been trying (with some minor success) to explain that apologies should be reserved for things that need them, and that by apologizing for everything it takes the sincerity out of the apologies delivered when they’re needed.

      I understand that apologizing is a habit brought on by social nicety but I think that this really is a habit worth breaking. Valancy Snaith commented above about how she has reframed the way she interacts with her customers and has noticed the positive reactions. I think that’s the better way to go.

  11. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Without more information, I’m not sure this is really a problem. People aren’t sorry for life happening, it’s more the inconvenience that they’re about to cause. (I’m thinking the apologizing for asking a question might be because they’re interrupting.)

    I do tend to overapologize. But! I’ve gotten better in recent years. Much better. However, the other day when my tonsils had swollen up so bad that I had to leave for the doctor? I apologized…because I was sorry for throwing my coworkers into a lurch. Not for the fact that I suddenly felt like I had two economy size cotton balls shoved down my throat.

  12. Valancy Snaith*

    Ah, yes: the two classic “sorrys.” “I’m sorry for X” meaning “I’m sorry I caused some kind of grief, misfortune, displeasure, etc., for you” and the “I’m sorry for X” meaning “I feel sorrow that something has caused you to experience some kind of disappointment/problem.” The latter can be stretched all the way from “I’m sorry for your loss” to “Sorry, I have to squeeze past you here.” Both are valid. Nothing makes me more insane than an exchange like “Oh, I got a flat.” “Oh, sorry to hear!” “You didn’t do it/it’s not your fault/no need to apologize.” I’m not apologizing for your flat–I’m commiserating and offering sympathy on a mildly sucky situation.

    1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

      Which is why the exchange should go:
      “Oh I got a flat”
      “Oh, that sucks. Hope it didn’t ruin your day / Hope it was an easy fix / etc”

      This really isn’t a situation that calls for an apology.

      1. Valancy Snaith*

        Yeah, that’s not really a response I’d feel comfortable giving. 99% of people in my social milieu of Canada are going to say “I’m sorry” and that’s the expected, normal response. It’s not an apology. It’s commiseration. I’d feel slightly insulted if I said “Oh no, I got a flat” and someone responded with “That sucks.” Even “Sorry to hear” is better than that.

      2. Discordia Angel Jones*

        I legit just spent a minute staring at that wondering why someone would apologise for getting an apartment.


      3. Anon for now*

        But I’m sorry being used as an expression of sympathy is still correct. It is not an apology in that instance. Try9ing to abolish the other (correct) use from the English language by being rude when offered sympathy is arbitrary, rigid and unkind.

      4. atalanta0jess*

        Should it though? “I’m sorry” is a really normal thing for people to say when they are expressing sympathy for something.

        I do tend to say something like “what a bummer! Ugh, I’m sorry.”

      5. Pollygrammer*

        I find “bummer” and “sucks” a little flippant and informal for talking to a supervisor, but I have a fairly uptight, customer-facing workplace.

      6. MCMonkeyBean*

        It’s NOT an apology! It’s sympathy. Saying your sorry is just expressing sorrow–it can be an apology if you feel sorrow because you did something wrong. Or you can feel sorrow because you are a normal human being capable of empathy.

      7. ele4phant*

        Eh – I would say that the context of the use of the phrase, it’s clear its not an apology, and its completely legitimate to use the phrase in this way.

        The derivation of sorry comes from old English that meant distressed, grieved, full of sorrow. It’s totally acceptable to use I’m sorry as a means to express “I am sorrowful for your situation”. In fact, maybe its when we need to actually apologize and admit blame that we should use more specific language.

      1. OP Here*

        Good call! I think we really can blame the English language in this case, it’s so confusing sometimes.

      2. Epsilon Delta*

        “Sorry to hear that!”
        “Why? It wasn’t your fault.”
        “Well I’m sorry to have offended you then.”

        I don’t have much patience for this game though.

  13. Mystery Bookworm*

    I do think you should be mindful to read the intent and context of the words. ‘

    Even with the best intentions, it can be perceived as….well, nit-picky, and maybe even a little patronising to criticise people’s word choices.

    I understand that women say sorry more than men. This is worth discussing in aggregate, but it’s not always the most useful thing on an individual level. Personally, I’ve not found people casually critiquing the way I speak to be especially empowering, or to send the message that I don’t need to feel guilty.

    If you’re a manager, or especially close to your coworkers, that changes things, but if you’re just a peer I would tread more gingerly.

    1. Thlayli*

      This. I’m glad OP has posted that she’s going to just accept it as a social nicety. I suspect if she had tried to get people to stop using the word she would have sounded like my old schoolteacher: “Of course you CAN go to the toilet, the question is MAY you go.”

  14. notanon*

    OP: out of curiosity, what general geographic region are you in? And are you a native to that location?

    As an upper Midwest US native, this is very normal speech to my ears. Coworkers who are East/West Coast transplants look at us like we are bananacrackers when we talk like this.

      1. ele4phant*

        Hmm, I’m from the West Coast and I’m totally on-board with using I’m sorry to smooth the social waters and show empathy.

        But, I’m in the PNW, so maybe we’re being influenced by those Canadians.

        1. bonkerballs*

          Yeah, I don’t think it’s that regional. I’ve lived in basically every major region of the US at one time or another and using “I’m sorry” to express sympathy is always common. Common in the south, in the PNW, in the gulf coast, in southern California, in New York, in New England, in Nebraska.

  15. Anon Anon*

    Not entirely related to the post, I used to be in a relationship with a man that had this same question, about what he referred to as Americans. He lived in America as well. He never said he was sorry about anything.

    There is much worse.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Haha, I can relate to the immigrant communities commenting on what they refer to as American strange customs. With my ex-husband, it was always the thank-you notes that he could not come to peace with. “So when you give a gift, you get a thank-you note? And then what? Do you write a thank-you note for the thank-you note? where does it end? Americans are nuts.”

      Your comment also oddly reminded me* about a time when I taught a kindergarten class in Sunday School, and one Sunday, missed the class and came to the teachers meeting after. My teaching partner showed up all aghast and started complaining about what a kid in our class had said. “I was teaching them forgiveness today, and little Wakeen says, I never forgive. I’m from New York!” I thought it was completely adorable, but my partner was horrified.

      *Also not related to this post. I’m sorry!!

  16. Amber Rose*

    I do say sorry when I’m out sick, not because I feel guilty that I’m a human who gets sick, but because I understand that it’s inconvenient regardless. But I think there’s a difference between a quick, “Sorry!” and a long, drawn out “I’m so sorry, I know this is such an inconvenience, I’m such a pain, you’re probably sick of me, sorry sorry sorry sorry.”

    Which is paraphrased from a coworker who seriously cannot get to the point without prostrating himself at people’s feet for daring to speak to them.

    1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

      Yes. That’s very important distinction. I have a coworker who does the latter. Apologizes for asking me a question, knows I’m so busy, doesn’t want to waste my time, etc. The five minutes it takes for him to get to the point wastes more time than a quick “sorry, [followed by totally sane and rational request]”.

      1. CanCan*

        Agreed. Some coworkers drop by my office and preface their question with: “I’m really sorry to bother you….” – which is annoying, because as one of the in-house legal counsel, it is exactly my job to answer questions like that. That’s like getting on a city bus and apologizing to the driver for disturbing his peace and quiet.

  17. Forking Great Username*

    I’m expecting an avalanche of comments agreeing with OP that this is annoying, but I strongly disagree and am on the side that it’s a social nicety, and I loathe it when people basically go on a crusade to stop it. IMO we need more people socially trying to be nice in this world, not less. If your problem is it being a gendered thing, then let’s encourage men to do it more instead of telling women to stop apologizing. It’s how I express empathy when someone is in a bad situation or being inconvenienced. I think the movement away from saying it is misguided and generally taken too far, and that OP should just stay away from this.

    I’ve had two people in the workplace who felt like you about apologies, OP. One was a coworker who would tell me something bad happening in his life, and when I said sorry, would say, “Why, is it your fault.” I would respond with, “No, I’m showing empathy.” This year during student teaching, one of my supervisors told me she doesn’t think teachers should ever say sorry because it undermines all of your authority. To me it just seems cold.

    TL;DR – People who say this are generally just being nice and showing empathy. Don’t make it a thing where they now feel uncomfortable about something they see as a nicety.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      Nah, I’m with you. It’s actually a little pet peeve of mine when people decide there’s only one correct usage of a word, even if the dictionary (and common usage) make it clear there are several.

      I think that there is value in discussing gender discrepancies and patterns in aggregate, but honestly, almost every time I’ve heard someone call out someone else for using ‘sorry’ too much – even under the frame of empowering women in the workplace – it comes across a less kindly than I think they mean it.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I think your co-worker is kind of a jerk, and that “I’m sorry” in a situation like that is perfectly appropriate. It’s people who apologize for things in the normal course of business, or in their day, that gets my hackles up. “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m sorry to hear that” doesn’t bother me (or most people, I would imagine). “When you get a chance, please talk to Sven about this,” should not warrant a, “sorry”, nor should, “Would it be possible for me to take a day off next week?” These are very different things, and it’s the second type that’s worrisome.

    3. CM*

      I agree with you in terms of “sorry” to show empathy, but I can see where the OP is coming from if people are saying, “Sorry, I’m sick and need to go home,” or “Sorry, I need some clarification on this.” If you feel required to say “sorry” when it’s a need you should be able to openly express without any apology, I think that’s worth pushing back on.

      1. OP Here*

        Yes, agree for sure about using “sorry” to show empathy. It’s the daily stuff where it seems unnecessary that gets to me. As others have said though, I shouldn’t overthink it – they’re just trying to be nice.

      2. heather*

        In those situations, the apology isn’t saying you’ve done something wrong. It’s expressing that you know this will inconvenience the person, you can’t do anything about that and you’re grateful for their help. I just don’t see how expressing that is an issue. It’s nice if we live in a world where we all acknowledge that we make other people’s lives harder and easier all the time, and that they do the same to us!

    4. Lindsay J*

      Ugh. You know what undermines authority? Not being polite and respectful your underlings, and not being willing to admit when you’re wrong/when you’re inconveniencing them, etc.

      (Though I guess it depends on the context. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get your papers back to you in time for you to work on them over break” is different than, “I’m sorry but I have to give you this assignment since it’s in the curriculum”.)

      1. Forking Great Username*

        Right, definitely a difference! After she gave me his feedback I apologized for bumping into a student and was told, “See, you just did it again!” I thought that was more than a bit extreme – not thinking it’s okay to say sorry when you bump into someone? Really? I know that’s not what OP is talking about, but some people can take the anti-sorry stance wayyyyy too far.

    5. Ori*

      You summed it up much more nicely than I did — I really dislike the “it’s a gendered thing, so women should do it less” logic, because I feel like it automatically assumes women’s speech/behaviour is inferior. There’s nothing wrong with being kind to other people!

    6. Mad Baggins*

      I agree. I like that people acknowledge when they are interrupting others, or causing inconvenience to others, or making them wait, or stepped on their foot… whether it’s phrased as “thank you for your patience” or “excuse me, I have a quick question” or “pardon me, may I get past you” or “sorry for the inconvenience,” I think this is an important sentiment to express to grease the wheels of human interaction.

      This letter is like when I was at a meeting where everyone wouldn’t stop praising and thanking each other. “Thank you so much for organizing this,” “thank you everyone for coming,” “thank you for raising this issue,” “thank you for noticing,” “thank you for working on this, what a great team we have,” “thank you for the compliment”…. It was very irritating to me, but after a while I realized that this was how the team was getting to know each other and building trust. Perhaps LW’s apologizing office really has some guilt issues with taking leave, but perhaps they really just don’t trust that things will get done smoothly without some social grease. Maybe there is a workload issue or other communication issues at play.

  18. MuseumChick*

    I have an over-apologizing over-explaining co-worker. Think this conversation several times a day: “Hey, museumchick, sorry to ask but could you *insert reasonable thing* for me? I won’t ask except *super long winded repeating information explanation* I’m sorry to ask but could *insert reasonable thing again*

    After I got to know her I started saying, in very playful voice. “Nope. How dare you even ask!” It’s helped a little. But this is really individual specific.

    1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

      I had a manager who would say “I’m sorry to ask but could you *do thing that was the major task of my job*” literally every time she handed me work. This was not a case of empathy, or a situation that warranted an apology. She was a serial I’m sorry-er. Situations where she apologized: she once walked through the kitchen in the office and announced ‘Im sorry, I have to use the bathroom.’ ; On her birthday someone made/brought a cake “oh you guys, this is so sweet. I’m sorry you went through the trouble for it.” ; She slipped on some ice coming into the office and tore her pants. She apologized to everyone for falling and ripping them. All day.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I started giving my over-apologizing coworker a blank stare and absolutely not, in any way, acknowledging the apologies, and he toned it down after a while. The second you say “it’s OK” or anything at all, it becomes encouragement to keep up that kind of thing and it’s such a waste of time.

  19. SierraSkiing*

    In a somewhat similar issue with one particular coworker: whenever something goes wrong, he says it’s his fault and he’s sorry. But…. most of the time, it actually isn’t his fault! It’s either just chance, or it is something that someone else should have done/not done. It can be somewhat derailing because it makes it harder to address the actual problem. If Scooby is blaming everything on himself and it’s actually some problem with Shaggy’s process, we have to pat Scooby on the head and spend time assuring him it wasn’t his fault before we can actually address the need to change Shaggy’s process so the mistake doesn’t happen again. Any advice?

    1. sunny-dee*

      Is he actually saying it’s his fault or are you inferring it because he said he’s sorry? He could be sorry the situation exists without taking responsibility for the situation. “Sorry, but we’re facing a delay in the warehouse since the main whatever is offline.” It doesn’t mean necessarily that he’s responsible for taking the whatever offline.

      But if he’s actually taking responsibility in some way — I should have done X or I thought Y would be okay — then that is a problem.

      1. SierraSkiing*

        He’ll usually say something like “Oh, I’m so sorry, it’s my fault – I should have double checked to make sure Shaggy got the order right”, even if it’s not really his job to check Shaggy’s work. So it is taking fault onto himself, not just the reflexive “sorry for the inconvenience” apology.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Ew, yeah, that’s just bad. Like you said, it really does obscure the issue and make it harder to track down the root cause (especially if Dept A has a pattern of messing up something or missing deadlines and he’s blaming himself instead of them).

          Would it be possible just to explain that aspect of it? Not saying sorry (because that may be a verbal tick that would be hard to fix and isn’t really the problem), but taking responsibility for someone else’s problems? It may be that he is thinking he should have a contingency plan or manage tasks more closely or something.

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          Wow, that’s a little self-centered. And possibly co-dependent. But way to interject yourself into the issue, co-worker!

          I know you’re not his boss, but can you take him aside and point out that he shouldn’t apologize for not doing something that isn’t his job to do? And that he’s distracting everyone from the main issue, so please don’t do that?

          (Spitballing here. I’ve never had to do something like this.)

  20. M*

    I also wonder what the ratio of men/women over apologizing is. Reminds me of this ad from Pantene about women basically apologizing for taking up space and existing:

    Script for anyone who can’t watch the vid or watch with sound:

    [Why are women always apologizing?]

    [man discussing something in meeting, woman:] Sorry, could I ask a stupid question?
    [woman pops head into office:] Sorry, do you have a minute?
    [woman sitting in chair using both armrests. man sits down, manspreads, leans towards her and uses her armrest. woman:] Sorry.
    [woman holding toddler while trying to look in fridge while cooking dinner. man (husband/father of child?) looks at pot. toddler is squirming. woman begins to hand toddler to man] Sorry.
    [3 or 4 women are seated at conference table. man pulls up chair:] Mind if I squeeze in here?
    [3 or 4 women scooting seats down, cringing and reaching for items left behind now in front of man:] Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.
    [man is hogging the covers, leaving woman without any of the comforter. reaching for it, woman:] Sorry.
    [man & woman getting into car start speaking at the same time. he continues, but she pauses and says:] Sorry, you go first.

    [Don’t be sorry.]
    [Be STRONG and SHINE]

    [woman in meeting from before] I have a question, Why don’t we go back to the original thing we did?
    [woman popping head in office from before] Morning. You got a minute?
    [woman in chair from earlier shrugs and doesnt let the man take her arm rest]
    [woman handing off toddler] Sorry, not sorry.
    [woman stealing the covers completely] Sorry, not sorry. [man curls around her for warmth]


    1. Jennifer*

      Hahahahah, if I did that it would not have the happy results that Pantene claims I would.

  21. Lady By The Lake*

    I am a woman and I have repeatedly been criticized over the years for being too direct when I use words and phrasing that no one would bat an eyelash at if I were male. If I preface what I’m about to say with “I’m sorry, but . . .” that is enough social sauce to make what I say afterwards palatable. I’m not a bit sorry, but if I say those three words, suddenly I’m not “too direct.” It drives me crazy, but I’ve learned that I have to do it or people will bristle.

    1. Kelly Bennett*

      Agreed. I’m being blunt and direct and downright bitchy if I’m not basically cowering and saying sorry when I do things.

      1. Jennifer*

        I third this.
        I have been told to “soften” everything I say. So yes, I cower and cover myself in sorries.

    2. The Original K.*

      And see, I tend to take the opposite tack as a Black woman because I am made to feel like the go-to response to me is to be dismissive, so I try not to make it easier for people to dismiss me. I stop people from interrupting me for the same reason – I say “Hold on, I wasn’t finished speaking” whenever people try to interrupt. I’m deliberate in not apologizing unless I’m actually sorry. So in a meeting I don’t say “Sorry, but can we go back to the last point?” I say “I’d like to go back to the last point,” in a calm neutral tone, or maybe “Can we go back to the last point?”

      I used to work with a (white) woman who had a similar experience – she is very small, so people tend to dismiss her on sight. Her mentor, one of the male partners at her firm (she’d been an attorney in private practice) cautioned her against defaulting to “sorry” because she sometimes had to be fought to be seen so she needed to come across as authoritatively as possible. So she worked very hard to break the habit and now never ever apologizes unless she is actually sorry.

      1. CM*

        +1, right down to the law firm partner advice! (but minus the whiteness) I was taught never to apologize unless I did something that truly warranted an apology. It’s so culture- and industry-dependent for women whether you need to say “sorry” to be listened to, or need to avoid saying “sorry” to be taken seriously.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Thank you, this is what I was trying to get across up thread and wasn’t being successful. Although in my case it’s the male manager who is the over-apologizer, I think that may be why I’m sensitive to this, because as a woman, I don’t want to put myself in a position to apologize for being me and for doing and saying things that are very normal.

      In the male managers case I’m working on confidence in general with him to help him grow as a leader, and this tendency to over apologize is part of that overall coaching.

    4. ele4phant*

      Yep, I agree. I’m sorry is often just a tool to help your message go down. Particularly if you are a woman.

      1. OP Here*

        Yes, I agree with this. As women it seems like we’re taught that we need to deliver our messages more softly but this doesn’t help us advance or gain confidence in the workplace.

    5. M*

      This is something that’s been studied many times, i don’t have statistics or links at the moment though. One of those studies includes something along the lines of no matter how much a woman speaks (and they did word count AND time count) the men always assumed the women talked more when asked. this was also something that’s often seen in politics regardless of which party line you’re on. a man & a woman could say the same thing and the man is an effective leader (and other positive words) and the woman is a shrill b*tch (and other negatives.) A man is taking charge and competent while a woman is bossy & demanding unless she’s apologizing. In the commercial i posted above, there are great examples of not apologizing, but it does include some things (like hogging both arm rests or the covers) that i’d still try to be a little less aggressive with myself lol. it sucks and i try hard to not apologize for existing or needing information, but it’s hard to stop

  22. Y*

    Just reply, ‘Don’t worry about it.’

    And be glad they’re not saying something incredibly due, like ‘with all due respect’. Language like that could get people punched.

    1. Discordia Angel Jones*

      I am a lawyer and I love the phrase “with all due respect” because we all know that we are calling each other idiots by using it.

      1. Y*

        You’d have you know someone very well before you can use it, though. Otherwise, as I say, you could get punched.

        Like if you told them their idea is very interesting, and you’ll bear it in mind.

        Or thanked them for their courageous suggestion.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I learned this phrase and how to use it by watching L.A. Law, a show I miss terribly.

        1. Chameleon*

          I still remember the visceral horror of watching whats-her-name step into the empty elevator shaft. I think that was literally the first time I saw a character die on TV.

  23. saffytaffy*

    I get really uncomfortable when people tell me not to say sorry- it feels like they’re either being too literal or refusing to acknowledge my feelings. Also, I say sorry more when someone is being overbearing or negative towards me, so it might be worth looking at what could be causing the environment rather than just telling people to stop using the expression.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      Yeah, people who respond with “why? It’s not your fault” rarely do so without sounding a little snippy or condescending. But that’s more those people who refuse to acknowledge the really common convention that “I’m sorry” = “I’m expressing sympathy.”

      1. saffytaffy*

        It’s like people who refuse to admit that ‘they’ has been in use as a singular pronoun FOR. EV. VAAAAAR.

        1. Chameleon*

          Or the people who get snippy when a “thanks” is responded to with “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome.” I am acknowledging your thanks, don’t get all angry with me for using a slightly different regionalism than you are used to.

  24. A Nickname for AAM*

    For some reason, I was taught that saying sorry for things beyond your control (Absent the “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “I’m sorry to hear you’ve been ill,”) in the workplace was an admission of guilt for which the company was required to pay restitution.

    I then switched jobs to one that expected us to say, “I’m sorry” for everything up to and including inclement weather, and was consistently in trouble for having “bad manners.”

    You pretty much can’t win.

    1. OP Here*

      Yes! Why do I need to be sorry there’s a foot of snow outside and I can’t drive to the office? No idea, but I’ll say it anyway…

      1. ele4phant*

        I mean, you’re not apologizing for the weather.

        You’re just communicating more succinctly – “I recognize that circumstances outside my control mean I cannot come into the office today, and that may mean you are short staffed or I am harder to work with today because I have to be remote, and I emphasize that may mean a harder day for you.”

        1. A Nickname for AAM*

          In my line of work, it’s more like customers ranting at you that we’re closed because there’s a giant blizzard and the electricity and water are out.
          “Can’t you just ski to work and bring a flashlight and hold it until you get home so I don’t have to miss Zumba this is ridiculous?”
          “I’m very sorry, we will try to do better next time.”

          1. ele4phant*

            I mean, but even still, you’re not really apologizing because you did anything wrong. You’re apologizing to make your customer feel better and hopefully retain them. That’s a valid social technique.

            Your company isn’t actually going to start forcing people to come in when its snowy and dangerous, you are just using it to placate your customer and affirm that, yeah, its a bummer you couldn’t come to class. We will continue to try to keep classes up and running whenever possible.

            If your company is *actually* going to chew you out for cancelling class or make you try to come in when its unreasonable or unsafe, that’s certainly a problem and maybe you shouldn’t work for those people anymore.

  25. Leela*

    Heads up in case this isn’t addressed up top (no time to read ATM so sorry if it’s a rehash) but constant apologizing can be a symptom of of someone who survived domestic violence/childhood abuse. Definitely not diagnosing anyone in your office or claiming this is what it is for any of them, let alone all of them, and it’s incredibly difficult on them when they have to stop doing something that is basically a necessary release valve for stress just for the comfort of others.

    Also I’ll throw out that a lot of women are trained to add an “I’m sorry” with what they say on threat of some form of punishment, whether being thought of as a bitch by people who have the power to grow (or not) their careers, or social shunning which can cost them opportunities, etc.

    I definitely agree that if it feels like there’s actual guilt behind the “I’m sorry” that needs to be addressed. But please be aware that “I’m sorry” comes out of a person’s mouth for lots of reasons that aren’t “I literally believe I have done something wrong here”.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      I actually think this is a really good point, and maybe part of why I’m feeling resistant to the urge people have to call it out.

      Although that impulse can come from a good place, it needs to be treated wary because – without the context of the right relationship – the message that the recipient gets might be ‘your language will be policed and we’ll try to catch you out’. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, but I do think that critiquing people’s language (especially when you know what they mean!!) shouldn’t be done as a matter of course, but only when really helpful.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Yeah. I guess it feels kind of infantilizing to me? Like when teachers in school would insist on your saying, “May I use the rest room?” instead of “Can I use the restroom?”

        Like, it’s not improper language. You entirely know what I meant. It’s not hurting anyone.

        I don’t see what good it does to police people’s language on this, and can see the harm if it makes people have to be unduly conscious of what they say.

    2. Queen B*


      There was a messy situation at work last week that I was indirectly involved with, and when my boss told us he would be having one-on-one meeting all of us about it, I volunteered to go first because I thought he was just going to ask me for my version of the events. Instead, he basically accused me of open defiance and not respecting his authority. I respect the hell out of him and love working with him, both professionally and personally (which I’ve told him openly), so I was shocked almost speechless by his words to me and could only repeat, “I’m really sorry, I’m really sorry,” while trying not to cry.

      Much later, I realized I hadn’t actually told him that I wasn’t really involved in the messy situation, and that my apologies could easily be taken as an admission of guilt re:the situation AND for the alleged defiance and disrespect. Well, shit. I want to talk to him about how he got the impression that I don’t respect him when the complete opposite is true, but I’m afraid I’ll cry if I bring it up.

      Why? Because when I was a child, my father would beat me for doing innocuous things that he took as gestures of defiance and disrespect. For example, I could be sitting on the couch and reading a book, and suddenly he would come running into the room to hit me, because he had told me from a distance to take my feet off the couch — and when I didn’t respond because I was engrossed in my book and hadn’t heard him, he would think I was deliberately leaving my feet on the couch to spite him, and this would send him into a rage. He stopped hitting me when I was a teenager, but he still misinterprets my behavior to see malice and spite where there is none (and I’m now 40), and the most hurtful thing about it is that I’ve spent my whole life trying to please him and am always solicitous of his comfort and happiness. But I do one little thing wrong (or “wrong”), and he thinks the worst of me.

      Hence my repeated apologies to my boss last week and inability to talk to him about his interpretation of my actions in the messy situation. Every time I imagine bringing it up with him now, I tear up, but we have always had an otherwise healthy working relationship, so I’m working on handling my emotions so that we can have that important conversation.

      1. boo-nony bot*

        Queen B, I have been in that exact situation, countless times, of freezing and being unable to do anything but apologize like “sorry” is the only word I know – because in that moment it kind of is. It’s embarrassing and scary as hell and I’m so sorry you went through that with your boss. Definitely talk to him, especially because you’ve had a healthy relationship and probably he is confused about what was going on. I wish you all the best, that sh*t is so hard.

        Leela, it may or may not apply to the people in the OP’s office but I appreciate your bringing this up. I didn’t actually know that it was a common thing, I’m the only person I ever knew with that problem. I do actually believe that the compulsive apology thing is detrimental to the mental health of the person doing it, but it’s usually deeply ingrained – I can’t actually remember a before-time when it wasn’t my instinctive response to conflict, even (perhaps especially) when I wasn’t the target of anger. People telling me I was doing apologies wrong, or doing life wrong, did not help me change my behavior, because it wasn’t under my conscious control. I KNEW I was doing life wrong! I’m SORRY, okay?

        The last thing, for anyone reading this who needs it: So, dear reader. you might notice I’m using past tense, like I did magically change the behavior, and you would be right. I did stop doing this, almost entirely. It was a massive eye-opener to learn that it is a form of dissociation (for me, anyway.) Dissociation meaning, it’s not a rational statement, it’s an extreme fear response – I rarely meant “I have done something I regret,” I meant, “Please don’t hurt me.”

        The actual way I stopped (And You Can Too, I Hope) was using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which one can do in a group or one-on-one therapy setting, or alone at one’s desk with a workbook, which is what I did. It’s a technique to pay attention at your automatic reactions to things and challenge the underlying beliefs that distort your thinking (i.e. Event = Someone looks at me funny. Automatic thought = That person hates me and can tell I’m a bad person. Challenge = That person doesn’t know me, so they probably don’t hate me. They don’t know what kind of person I am. They might not even have been looking at me. Maybe they looked funny because they were trying not to sneeze on a crowded subway.)

        TL;DR: Yes, thanks for saying it, and everyone who wants to should try cognitive behavioral therapy.

        Here endeth the lesson.

  26. ele4phant*

    As someone who regularly, and pretty much exclusively, uses I’m sorry as a social nicety to smooth over difficult or awkward situations, or just to acknowledge when something sucks for another person, I do wonder if you are misunderstanding how people are using the phrase and projecting this culture of guilt where there isn’t one.

    Perhaps I’m wrong; you are actually in this environment so perhaps you can clearly see that people are walking around self-flagellating themselves for things that aren’t really their fault, but I doubt it.

    If I am *actually* in the wrong, I usually say “I apologize for X. I was wrong for doing y, and I see this now. It won’t happen again”.

    If I’m using I’m sorry in an offhand manner, dollars to donuts I’m not actually feeling guilt for anything, I want to get you to move off something you feel aggrieved about or I want to acknowledge a challenging situation you are dealing with. I probably don’t actually feel bad or responsible.

    1. OP Here*

      Good point, I think part of it is a misunderstanding and also carry over from a previous toxic workplace (where they did want you to feel guilty normal things). It’s also that most of the time it’s not an inconvenience to me, so why should they be sorry. But again, they’re just trying to be nice by acknowledging that perhaps it could be an inconvenience.

      1. ele4phant*

        I would say the right response is “Oh its no trouble at all!” Maybe you could even add “I appreciate the heads up”. Then you can go about your way and they can go about their way and nobody is feeling bad or responsible.

      2. Bea*

        They’re erring on the side of caution. So would you rather they assume something is no big deal and you’re happy to deal with anything they push your way? Then we get into the “argh you should acknowledge the inconvenience you caused!” and “I’m taken for granted!” then it morphs into “don’t thank people for doing their jobs, jeez their paycheck is their thanks!”

        Slippy slope right into rude AF Town.

  27. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

    I’m an overapologizer. Not in a overdrawn manner (I hope), but I tend to express my “I realize this is inconveniencing/interrupting you and I appreciate you doing [x]” with “I’m sorry.” It’s a habit I would like to break because it is partly because of anxiety issues and transition more towards saying “Thank you/I appreciate you for [x].” Right now I tend to go, “Sorry about that, thank you for [x]” when I’m at work which is….getting there in a way, haha.

    I can empathize with LW though in that it can be awkward to feel like people are overly shameful/guilty for really mundane stuff. You don’t want people to necessarily feel bad for doing normal stuff or depending on others because that can make an environment where people are afraid to be honest or speak up.

    However, as Alison said, I’d say for even people who are overly critical of themselves, you only have standing if you’re their supervisor or good friend to speak to them. Also, personally for me, snappy stuff like, “It’s not your fault,” doesn’t make me think, “Oh, I should apologize less and feel less guilty,” but rather, “Me trying to be polite and express sympathy/acknowledge inconvenience is making me more of a burden/annoyance,” and counterinuitively puts me in a mindset where I need to keep apologizing for myself. Which I realize isn’t correct and people generally mean well, but I don’t think it’s not really a “call out in the moment” thing, especially when it’s a fairly benign thing for people to do.

    1. ele4phant*

      I agree I sometimes take umbrage when people say “Oh, it’s not your fault”. Seeing as I often am using “I’m sorry” not as an admission of guilt or culpability but rather to express empathy, to acknowledge an inconvenience and/or as a social tool, I usually know its not my fault. I’m not saying it was.

      I think a pretty fail safe response is “Thank you, I appreciate that, it’s no problem”.

  28. EddieSherbert*

    This one is interesting and made me think a bit… I think office culture does come into play.

    At ToxicJob, I used to say “I’m sorry” for these things all the time and I didn’t think anything of it.

    At my current job, I did that in the beginning… but now I can’t even remember the last time I apologized for being ill or needing help with something. No one ever specifically called me out though – I just didn’t FEEL like I had to anymore. The environment is just so different.

    I do distinctly remember my manager just cheerfully saying “is X on your calendar? Awesome, sounds good then!” every time I approached with something like that and eventually… I just stopped worrying about it.

  29. Hope Is Not A Strategy*

    I used to be terrible about using qualifiers in email and in person. I used the “guilt into gratitude” method for in-person; the gmail extension Just Not Sorry helped me with writing,

  30. Bea*

    If anyone ever polices my language outside of “duuuuude don’t cuss at strangers like that, you’re gonna get us in a fight.” I’ll double down on the offense.

    Me saying “I’m sorry” isn’t for you or anyone to curb. Yes, I’m a woman. A powerful successful professional woman who will apologize for whatever my heart desires. You’re not my English teacher.

  31. Dzhymm*

    And yes, “sorry” is one of those overloaded words that can mean a wide variety of things, and *what* it means is often very dependent on one’s culture and upbringing.

    When I was in the hospital last year I’d ring the nurse, then when she showed up I’d say “Sorry to bother you, but…”. In this case I was basically acknowledging that they have a large workload and expressing my appreciation of that fact (followed by a sincere “thank you” in appreciation for what they did for me).

  32. Duffman*

    I work in one of these sorts of environments. I always apologize for taking PTO (and feel guilty the whole time I’m out). I felt guilty about taking bereavement when my grandfather died.

    One day last week walking down the hall, a woman said “sorry” to me. All she was doing was passing me going in the other direction. I think she was apologizing for being in the same hallway?

  33. Different point of view*

    Where I work, we are chronically short of help. So yes you are sorry you are taking off knowing this means your co-worker may be staying late to do their work and yours. You are even more sorry knowing that if what is needed is not an emergency that day, you will be staying late when you come back to complete the task.

  34. Rainy*

    I dated the OP’s clone on the “sorry” thing, and it fucked my shit up for quite a while–the punitive “IT WASN’T YOUR FAULT, YOU DUMMY” response to someone expressing sympathy or polite negation is gross and destructive to the people around you, who are just trying to be nice.

    Gods forbid anyone be nice.

    Sorry, this is such a button for me because of that terrible, awful, no-good, very bad relationship that I can’t help but say something about it. :)

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