I say this phrase, or something similar, a lot. At least a few times a day I begin talking with an apology for talking.
“I hope you don’t mind…” “Sorry, but I was only thinking…”
I anticipate that I’m over stepping some boundary most of the time when I talk. Even if the people I’m with seem receptive or interested, I feel like my ideas are an annoyance. And this happens in a variety of situations: classes, dinner with my family, hanging out with friends, talking with a co-worker, basically everywhere.
I know I’m not the only person who does this.
I see a lot of people around me apologizing too, and it’s mostly other women.
Most people apologize for wrongdoings, but the difference is that men are more lenient about what they consider acceptable behavior while women are much more likely to apologize even when it is obvious they did nothing wrong.
This difference is visible in everyday situations. At school, if I get to talking at lunch about something I’m passionate about, or even just go into a small monologue about how I was late to class, forgot my book, and tripped up the stairs, and vent briefly about the peanut butter I got on my sweater, I feel like I’m talking too much and bothering everyone. So I apologize a thousand times.
In cases when I’ve gone into a “rant” over something I have opinions about, my male friends are the ones most likely to flat out say they don’t care, or interrupt me to make a joke or change the topic entirely. When I have such discussions among female friends, they are much more receptive, or at least patient, when listening.
Growing up there is a sense that as a girl you need to be careful not to talk too much because it’s “impolite.” We’re shut up with harsh words. Flat out told we’re talking too much, bashed for “blabbing” about something we care about or “whining” when we have a problem we need addressed. As a result, you learn to feel badly if you talk for more than a few seconds. You curb your tongue because you’re “b-word-y” for having an opinion and a “know it all” for sharing it. This is not completely the case with everyone and a lot of women can overcome it, but it’s a problem that it’s even something that needs to be overcome.
There’s no reason to think your ideas aren’t as valid as the boy next to you in class. So what if you blab a bit or come across as a know-it-all?
Don’t give into the pressure to be “polite” and not say anything. There are ways to be polite without saying “sorry.”
Start with your body language. Sit up and say what’s on your mind and don’t shrink back into your chair when you’re finished. Present your ideas with confidence, even if it’s fake, and this can encourage people to listen and take your words into consideration. Did a friend cut you off? Don’t quietly accept that your words aren’t going to be heard. Finish your thought as soon as you can and make sure you give your friend acknowledgement for their thoughts as well. If it’s a reoccurring problem, talk to that person when you can and say how you feel. Be respectful and friendly towards others, but try to avoid outright apologizing and feeling bad about things you don’t need to say “sorry” for.
It’s something that takes practice and some nerve if you’re a serial apologizer, but your voice is worth it.
Anna is a sophomore at Hartwick College, majoring in anthropology and history.