Sorry, Not Sorry

screen capture of sociologist Maja Jovanovic. Tall woman with bright red hair wearing a sequinned silver suit and black top.

Ever wonder why we Canadians – especially Canadian women – say we’re sorry so much? It’s like we want to excuse ourselves for just…being.

I have said sorry before just to keep the peace because that was worth more than starting an argument or laying blame. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about minimizing yourself by over-using the word. It’s about appearing timid and small when that’s not the image you want to project.

“I’m sorry but I think we should…”

“I’m sorry, but I need to get in here…”

“I’m sorry. I thought you meant…”

Sociologist Maja Jovanovic noticed this phenomenon and has some practical ideas for changing this behavior. Because, frankly, it makes us seem meek and weak and like we don’t have confidence. Even if we are strong and bold and have healthy self-esteem

Some of her examples of unnecessary sorries: “The “sorry, this may be an obvious idea” at a meeting, the “sorry to cause trouble” when rescheduling a haircut, the “sorry, there’s a spill in the dairy aisle” at the supermarket.”

Jovanovic, who teaches at McMaster University in Hamilton, reminds us that we have options. “Every single one of us has responded to a text you got when you weren’t able to respond right away. What did you say? ‘Sorry.’” She says, “Don’t apologize — say, ‘I was working,’ ‘I was reading,’ ‘I was driving, ‘I was trying to put on Spanx.’ Whatever it is, it’s all good. You don’t have to apologize.”

She even suggests substituting “thank you” for “sorry”. Instead of saying “sorry I’m late” try “thank you for waiting”.

Jovanovic says, “I have been interrupting these apologies for three years now. One hundred percent of the time when I interrupt another woman and I say, ‘Why did you just say sorry for that?’ she’ll say to me, ‘I don’t know.’”

I don’t know either. Enough with being sorry! There’s a Gmail plugin called Just Not Sorry that will alert you to the sorries in your emails! That’s a good place to start.

If you’re interested in exploring this further, watch Jovanovic’s TEDx talk below.

4 thoughts on “Sorry, Not Sorry”

  1. Ooooooh – guilty, so guilty. Thank you for this poignant and oh-so-true blog today Lisa. I was always just so afraid that people would think I was overstepping my place. It was a way to feel or seem less threatening so that no egos were harmed in the making of a show. You know the song so well….(and no inferences should be taken regarding to whom I might or might not be referring, please). And thank you for “thank you”! That’s a much better pair of words than “sorry” IMHO!

  2. Oh this is so timely! We’ve been talking about exactly this at work this week! I’m guilty of it too to the point that even if I know the other person is wrong, I’ll word it in a way that hints that the mistake might’ve been mine. To make them feel better I guess. How awful is that?!! I am going to look for that gmail plug-in. My co-worker & I wish our Outlook at work had one too! Thanks for this Lisa!

  3. My pleasure! I have done that too – said “sorry” just to seem non-threatening and to make the other person feel better. Gah! Let’s all agree to stop!

  4. Guilty as charged. Sorry for the delay … It’s also similar to the need to answer the phone when you’re busy, but that I can and do ignore, and texts, E-mails etc. But, it is also often expected by others. You’re late because of a delay on the subway, why do you apologize?

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