According to experts, saying “I’m sorry” makes you look bad. Here’s what successful people do instead

Do you often apologize?

Are you someone who blurts out, “I’m sorry!” every time you’ve inconvenienced someone? Even when it’s not your fault?

Here’s some bad news:

According to research, saying “I’m sorry” too often makes people think less of you.

Here’s why.

Research says Americans say “I’m sorry” too often

A 2015 poll from YouGov shows that Americans are way too quick to apologize for even the smallest things.

The poll surveyed 1,000 Americans.

The results showed that 71% apologize for interrupting someone. For trying to do a favor but getting it wrong, 58% of Americans would apologize, too.

Even being in the way in the doorway merits an apology from 72% of the American poll participants.

The poll also shows that women tend to apologize more than men.

Several other studies also back this up. According to a 2010 study published in the journal PubMed, “men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.”

When apologizing becomes bad

Psychologist and professor Juliana Breines says: “Heartfelt apologies can go a long way in dissolving hostility, encouraging forgiveness, and mending damaged relationships. But they are not always easy to come by.”

She continues:

“On the other hand, sometimes apologies come too easily and too frequently, as when we apologize for things that are clearly not our fault, not in our control, or otherwise unworthy of apology. Examples include apologizing for being hurt by someone else’s offense, apologizing for being over-sensitive, apologizing when someone else bumps into you, and apologizing for apologizing.”

Apologizing may seem like the right and respectful thing to do. But usually the phrase “I’m sorry” is infamous for its inadequacy or flippancy.

Here are some science-backed reasons why apologizing too much makes you look bad:

1. It makes people lose respect for you.

In her popular book, “The Power of an Apology,” psychotherapist Beverly Engel’s says that over-apologizing is just the same as over-complimenting.

You may think you come across as being nice and caring. In reality, it just makes you look insecure and inept.

Engels warns that this may lead people to lose respect for you.

She says:

“It can give a certain kind of person permission to treat you poorly, or even abuse you.”

2. It’s annoying, awkward, and even hurtful.

The truth is that over-apologizing just annoying. It puts people in an awkward position and it really is unnecessary.

Worse, it could add insult to the injury.

According to this study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology, saying “I’m sorry” when you’re deliberately hurting someone (i.g. rejecting them, canceling plans, breaking up) could make the person feel worse.

The researchers wrote: “Across three sets of studies, apologies increased hurt feelings and the need to express forgiveness but did not increase feelings of forgiveness.”

The continued:

“Social norms dictate that we forgive someone if they apologize; therefore, targets are put in a position where they are expected to forgive the rejection even if they do not believe the apology is sincere.”

3. It devalues your future apologies.

Saying “I’m sorry” too much devalues your apologies. So when the time comes when your apologies should mean something, the impact is lessened.

Apologizing only when it matters to make the apology more sincere. Otherwise, it’s just habit and flippancy that doesn’t come across as meaningful.

4. It lowers your self-esteem.

The most harmful side-effect of being an over-apologizer is that it lowers your self-esteem.


A study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology proves that not apologizing increases your self-esteem. 

Researchers found that people who refuse to apologize, have “greater self-esteem, increased feelings of power and integrity.”

What successful people do instead

If you shouldn’t say “I’m sorry,” then what should you say or do instead? Here’s what successful people do, instead of apologizing.

1. Find a way to say “thank you” instead.

Don’t demean yourself by apologizing for things that are outside your control. Instead, find a way to be grateful.

According to Heather Murphy, business consultant and coach: 

“Show concern without demeaning yourself by saying “thank you.” For example, if a project falls behind skip the excuses (“I’m so sorry I don’t have this to you yet”) and exchange it: “Thank you for your patience as we navigate this project, you will have it by Friday of next week.” Take your power back by owning your situation, cutting out the sob story, and giving a simple thank you.”

2. Find a resolution.

Saying “I’m sorry” may sound sincere, but it doesn’t fix the problem. Instead, find an active solution.

Ken Gosnell, Chief Servant Officer of CEO Experience, says:

“I’m sorry” can become a statement without meaning. A great replacement for I’m sorry is “I desire.” This statement is a leading statement that places the focus on what is going to happen or what both parties would like to see happen. It allows the hearer to feel heard and know the heart of the speaker. With this statement, the speaker is able to move to resolution.”

3. Apologize, but don’t use the word “sorry.”

Seems quite contradictory?

You can apologize without saying the word sorry.

According to executive coach and public speaker, Even Westlake, here’s how:

“An apology is about taking responsibility and making a commitment to do differently next time. If you aren’t responsible or would do the same again, then it’s not the time to say sorry. Next time you feel pulled to say “sorry,” simply don’t use that word. Make the apology without it. This will compel you to be clear on your part of the story.”

Find balance

Apologies are essential if you want to navigate life successfully. From your relationships to your career, a right apology can make or break your success.

However, if you apologize too much, it not only makes others think less of you, it devalues your worth, too.

Find the balance. Apologize only when it is necessary and it means something.

Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.