Sorry Like You Mean It

A first of its kind study that attempts to answer why women apologize more often, and what everyone (including men) can do to change it.

Presented by Heat

Women apologize a lot

At least it’s a hunch that many of us have. As our cultural dialogue around feminism has grown into a (I am woman hear me) roar, the idea that women over-apologize has gotten a lot of talk time. Yet we could find almost no quantitative research that explores what drives apologetic behavior.

So we developed our own study that looks deeper into the behavior of apologizing and what it means for the way people view each other and themselves — and we’re not sorry to say that what we found was pretty eye-opening.

Why do people apologize? Sorry
For the most part, everyone apologizes on a daily basis. Women a bit more than men.
Apologies per day chart
Apologies warranted chart
No one thinks they’re guilty of over-apologizing.
Women chart
Men chart
However, when you look at who people think apologize more:
Women chart
Men chart
Clearly there is a discrepancy between perception and reality.
What drives people to apologize? My bad
Apologies fall into two camps:
Two camps of apologies graphic
Two camps of apologies graphic
Everyone apologizes when they think they’re at fault, but women exceed men by double digits when the apology is related to empathy.
Empathy graphic
That is because women are more likely to base their apologies on how they make other people feel.
Polite women graphic
The disconnect seen between perception and reality is one of responsibility and empathy.
What's wrong with being overly polite? Pardon me
Being overly concerned with others’ feelings leads to habitual and unnecessary apologizing.
Unnecessary apologies chart
The problem is that over-apologizing takes a toll.
Sorry graphic
Men confidence graphic
Women apologize more than men at work, no matter what job title they have.
Female executive vs. male junior graphic
Female junior vs. male executive graphic
Over-apologizing affects how women interact with the world.
Women POV graphic
Men POV graphic
Using too many apologies affects the way women see themselves.
Two approaches graphic
Women’s approach to apologizing has a dramatic effect on how the world views them and how they view themselves.
Words have the ability to either give power or take it away.

Using “sorry” as a crutch for our real opinions and intentions exacerbates issues surrounding gender equality by making women appear and feel more subordinate.

But, this isn’t just a women’s issue for women to solve. It’s an issue we can all benefit from tackling together.
  1. Reconsider how women bring valuable empathetic leadership styles to business.
  2. Find ways to keep one another accountable for apologetic behavior.
  3. Don’t use apologies as a crutch. Being polite and assertive are not mutually exclusive.
Sorry Like You Mean It

Want to learn more about our study or share how you feel? Get in touch!

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“The Behavior of Apologizing,” Independent Study by Heat, October 2016
Online quantitative survey conducted with n=1,500 male and female respondents in the US. Ages 18-65.