How many times a day do you say “sorry”? If it’s so often that you can’t remember, it might be time to rethink this habit. “Oftentimes we find ourselves reflexively apologizing without really knowing why,” says Lisa Mirza Grotts, etiquette expert and founder of the Golden Rules Gal. However, this apologetic reflex may be doing you more harm than good. “Research shows that when we keep saying ‘I’m sorry’ it makes us sound weak and less respected by our peers,” she explains, adding that in some situations it may even make you take responsibility for things you shouldn’t. “Instead, try flipping the script to saying ‘thank you’ instead. It’s more positive and makes you appear stronger and in control.”
Still, some people may worry that not apologizing may be impolite and that it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to polite manners. Not so, Grotts says, and to help you figure out the etiquette of apologizing we asked experts to share common things people apologize for that they shouldn’t. And if you do need to genuinely say you’re sorry? Make sure you aren’t sabotaging your apology with these nine mistakes.
Taking a sick day
Everyone gets sick sometimes. That’s not a failure, it’s a fact of life. Yet too many people fear using their sick days and apologize to their boss and coworkers when they finally do. Apologizing for using your PTO is totally unnecessary and can hurt you in the long run, says Kim Chronister, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills, California. “You are allowed to have personal downtime as long as it’s not excessive,” she says, adding that this includes mental health days. “Just be matter of fact. No need to spill emotional details at work or make excuses. Simply take a sick day and don’t apologize for it.”
Not buying a birthday gift for a friend
Buying someone a gift for their special day is a lovely gesture but it shouldn’t be an expectation, especially if you are in a difficult financial situation, Chronister says. “If you can’t afford to buy a gift, there’s no reason to apologize,” she explains. “If they truly love and care about you they will see your presence as the gift.” But just because you aren’t buying them a gift doesn’t mean you can’t give them anything, some of the best gifts are those that don’t cost a cent.
Interrupting someone occasionally
Interrupting others when they are speaking is a common etiquette mistake and one you should try to curb if it’s a frequent problem. However, we all do it sometimes and you don’t need to derail the conversation with an apology if it’s an accidental faux pas, Chronister says. “It’s okay to interrupt as long as it’s not mal-intended. It’s just about getting your point across and it happens sometimes,” she explains. Another issue is that some people, particularly men, see apologizing too often as a weakness so learning to apologize less may help you be seen as more confident and competent, she adds.
Saying “no” to being the classroom parent
“You should never apologize for saying ‘no’,” Grotts says. You’re allowed to protect your time and other resources, to stand up for yourself, and to have your own opinions—unapologetically. It can feel scary to say no, especially when the other person may be very disappointed or angry, so here’s how to say no without feeling like everyone is going to hate you.
Not knowing the right answer
With Google at our fingertips, it may seem like there is no excuse for you to not know something but technology doesn’t have all the answers (and often has the wrong ones) and all of us are in the process of learning, Grotts says. “If you don’t know the answer to something, just say so,” she says. “Instead of apologizing, see it as a good opportunity to learn something new.”
A partner’s table manners
filadendron/Getty Images“Never apologize for someone else’s behavior — that’s their job,” Grotts says. While it may be tempting to make apologies for your spouse, it’s important to remember that you are not responsible for another adult’s behavior and it is not reflective of your own, she says. Even worse, apologizing for their bad behavior may inadvertently get you roped into the situation which will reflect negatively on you, she adds.
Stating an opinion on politics
Politics, religion and other hot button issues can feel too risky to even broach these days unless you know the other person already shares similar views but staying silent does a great disservice to society by discouraging open discourse and sharing of ideas. “Don’t apologize for having an opinion and for sharing it,” Grotts says. “Even though it may only be your judgment, it’s okay to voice it even if it’s not based on fact. That’s why it’s your opinion!”
Not responding immediately to a text
Having constant access to phones means that people now expect instant replies to their texts, emails or calls. However, just because they expect it doesn’t mean you need to—and you don’t need to apologize for it, says Robin H-C, behaviorist, life coach, and author of Life’s In Session. This assumes that any text or call should be your top priority but if you respond to every non-urgent issue you’d never get anything else done, she explains. Instead, she recommends replying when you are able, skipping any apology and moving straight to the matter at hand.
RSVP’ing no to a party invitation
Apologizing when saying no to an invitation may feel polite but it is likely not honest, and in the long run, honesty will serve you better, H-C says. “Are you really sorry you can’t go? If you were then you would find a way to make it work,” she says. “Usually people aren’t sorry, they just don’t want to go and apologizing is a passive way to avoid telling them that.” It’s fine to say no to invitations without offering an apology or explanation; if it is someone you’d like to see at a different time, then tell them that and make plans to meet up in the future.
A spouse’s anger
Have you ever felt the need to apologize for other people’s feelings? If so, it’s time to take a careful look at your boundaries, especially in relationships, H-C says. “People who were traumatized or bullied as kids often make themselves responsible for the emotional climate of those around them,” she explains. “The truth is, you are not responsible for another adult’s emotions and you should not apologize for them.” If your partner is trying to use their emotions to guilt you into an apology, that’s one of the signs of an unhealthy relationship.
A messy house
Do you live in fear of a neighbor or friend just “popping in” to say hello because of the state of your home and then find yourself apologizing over and over again for the mess when they do? Cut yourself some slack in this area, H-C says. “You’re the one who is living there in the mess, not them,” she says. “Really you’re apologizing to them for witnessing how you live, and you shouldn’t need to do that.” Instead, she says the best way to deal with this situation is a little humor—”So I’m thinking about becoming a professional organizer…”
When someone goes out of their way to help you
Many people say “I’m sorry” when what they really mean is “thank you,” says Amy Rollo, LPC-S, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Heights Family Counseling in Houston, Texas. For instance, if you go to a full restaurant and the staff works hard to find a space for you, instead of apologizing for inconveniencing them, express appreciation for their hard work, she explains. Both you and the other person will feel happier by focusing on the positive aspects of helping others.
Going to the store in sweats
In an ideal world, we’d all only leave the house once we were perfectly coiffed and put together. Real-life, however, means that people get sick, wake up late, run out of hot water, have a broken washing machine, or have any number of situations that cause them to go out in public looking less than their best. And that’s totally fine, Rollo says. “Don’t apologize for your appearance. If you are tired or stressed, just own that you are not perfect and this is part of you,” she says.
Crying during an argument
“Emotions should never be apologized for, you are allowed to feel what you feel,” Rollo says. This doesn’t mean you have free reign to meltdown on anyone in your path—how you express your emotions matters—but you don’t need to apologize for simply feeling a certain way. Many people have been trained to think they “shouldn’t” feel sad or upset but negative emotions are a part of human life and you’re allowed to be human.
Toddler temper tantrums
There isn’t a parent on the planet who hasn’t had a little one cry, scream, or explosively vomit at the most inconvenient time. It’s a necessary, albeit frustrating, part of their development from infants to functioning adults—a fact that more people would do well to remember. So while you should help manage your child as best as you can, you don’t need to apologize for their outbursts, Rollo says. “Instead of saying you’re sorry, let others know that you understand this is a difficult situation, and you thank them for being patient,” she says.
Turning down sex
Many people feel they need to apologize for not wanting to have sex and it can cause tension in a relationship says Melanie Gonzalez, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist in Irvine, California. But your sex drive is like any other appetite. Would you apologize for not being hungry? “It’s very normal to not be in the mood sometimes and apologizing for that implies that you should always want sex,” she explains. “Man or woman, sometimes you are not in the mood and that should be okay and accepted by your partner without them taking it personally.”
A delayed flight
FatCamera/Getty Images“Don’t apologize for things that are out of your control like a delayed flight, bad weather, or illness,” says Amy Ricke, MD, a psychiatrist with Your Doctors Online, adding that these things just happen and most people will be understanding, even if it messes up their plans. “Say something to acknowledge the other person’s disappointment or inconvenience, but do not take responsibility for events or circumstances you have no role in.”
Asking a question
Apologizing before asking a question is very common, especially in women, Dr. Ricke says. But not only is this unnecessary it could hurt your career and relationships. “You have the right to get more information or gain clarification, whether it be at home, work, or elsewhere,” she says. “If you feel that you are interrupting or inconveniencing the other person, you can say ‘I have a few questions for you, please let me know when it is a good time to ask’.”
Not coming home for the holidays
Holidays are the time for seeing family—unless you don’t want to and that’s perfectly okay, says Stacy Cohen, MD, psychiatrist and founder of The Moment. There are many reasons why you may not want to go home for the holidays but the bottom line is that your feelings are valid. “So many people spend years suffering through the holidays, even though spending time with family isn’t the healthiest choice for them, they do it anyway,” she says. “You’re allowed to draw boundaries with your family and you don’t need to apologize for enforcing them.” Doing this may even improve your relationships. “You’ll feel less resentment towards your family, and you may even look forward to seeing them on your own terms,” she adds.
Turning down a Tinder date
Forget bars and clubs, these days dating apps have become the most commonplace for couples to meet. People are oftentimes less shy about asking for a date from behind a screen but the rules of dating etiquette are the same online as they are in real life, and that includes the right to unapologetically refuse a date, Dr. Cohen says. “If your answer is no, be clear,” she says. “Be honest and direct — but don’t be sorry. That just makes the rejection confusing!”
Taking time to be alone
Regardless of whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert (or an ambivert!), everyone needs some alone time every once in a while. Yet despite this being a very basic human need, many people feel guilty for taking time for themselves and feel the need to apologize for self-care, says Clinton Moore, PhD, a Clinical Psychologist and founder of Cadence Psychology in North Sydney, Australia. “Self-care is an important part of maintaining our own resilience and not something to be apologized for,” he says. “A great way to handle this is to let people know your plan ahead of time so they don’t feel like you are brushing them off.”
When people have conflicting core values, like different religious views, it can be difficult to navigate. Many times one person will feel compelled to apologize for their personal values because they don’t want to offend or upset the other person, Moore says. “There is no such thing as right or wrong values. They are all equally valid,” he says. “Instead of saying you’re sorry, take the time to listen to the other person’s perspective, thank them for their input, but politely say that it seems the two of you might value different things.”
For every little thing
Have you ever met someone who apologizes for even the slightest error? Some people feel compelled to apologize for every tiny mistake but this habit may actually be harming their relationships, Dr. Moore says. “Everyone makes little mistakes; from forgetting to pick up something at the shops to repeatedly not turning on the washing machine before bed. These are all perfectly normal things that you don’t want to start apologizing for,” he says. “When you start apologizing for trivial mistakes you run the risk of shifting the dynamic of the relationship and placing yourself in a subservient position which is not good for a healthy relationship.” You can acknowledge the mistake and validate their frustration without apologizing for it, he adds.
“You should never have to apologize for tending to your needs,” Dr. Moore says. The trick is to learn to compromise while still being assertive about what you need, he says. “Remember that assertiveness doesn’t mean always getting what you want, it means being clear about what you need,” he says.
A home-cooked meal
Sometimes what people are really looking for with an apology is reassurance, says Haleh Stahl, a licensed clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills, California. For instance, if you spend hours making a home-cooked meal and no one says anything about it, you may be tempted to apologize as a way of seeking reassurance that the food was good and your guests appreciate you. But the truth is you made them food! That’s awesome! So instead of apologizing, just ask directly what they thought of the meal (or assume they enjoyed it as shown by their empty plates), she says. Next, read on for the 16 things polite people have in common.