Career

Is It Too Late Now To (Stop) Saying Sorry?

The word "sorry" is now a standard – and regular - inclusion in the vocabulary of most women. Yet, instead of an all-out war on "sorry", here's a framework to question why you employ it and when to use it.

By Jamila Rizvi

Career

The word "sorry" is now a standard – and regular - inclusion in the vocabulary of most women. Yet, instead of an all-out war on "sorry", here's a framework to question why you employ it and when to use it.

By Jamila Rizvi

Author Deborah Tannen calls it a conversation ritual. Originally conceived as an expression of sincere and significant repentance, the word “sorry” is now a standard – and regular – inclusion in the vocabulary of most women. Tannen writes that “sorry” has become an “automatic tip of the verbal hat to acknowledge that something regrettable has happened”.  In modern language, saying sorry has become less about apologising and more about politeness and likeability. And in western cultures at least, women are significantly more likely to offer up a “sorry” than men.

There are two key factors driving women to be more willing, more often, to offer an apology. Firstly, studies have shown women have a lower bar for error. Men have been socialised to have a higher threshold for what kind of error necessitates an apology to their colleagues. By contrast, women are more likely to perceive that they’ve done something worthy of saying sorry for. This is particularly true in workplaces where women are still relative newcomers in the context of history.

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