Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Stop Apologizing

Dear Crucial Skills,

I’m in a relationship where I find myself constantly apologizing and I’m starting to feel like a doormat. Do you have any advice?

Stepped On

Dear Stepped On,

If you don’t mind, allow me to try to help in the most brief and direct way possible: STOP APOLOGIZING.

Genuinely expressing sorrow and regret for bad behavior is one of the most powerful ways to regain trust and build a relationship. But over-apologizing, or apologizing when you shouldn’t, can turn you into a target of mistreatment.

If this person you’re in a relationship with believes your intent was bad, but in fact you had good intent, an apology is not the right approach. It’s disingenuous and unhealthy to apologize for your behavior just to spare another’s feelings.

Instead, clarify what you intended. Here are three tips:

Share your good intent. Let this person know that you care about them, the conversation, the relationship, and the outcomes.

Contrast to fix misunderstandings. When there is a misunderstanding between what you meant and what they think you meant, contrast to clear things up. Explain what you don’t intend (address their misperception) with what you do intend (clarify what you really want). For example, “I don’t think you’re irresponsible; I am asking for your help with stuff around the house.”

Act in ways that reflect your good intent. I’ve always loved the words of the late Stephen Covey, who proclaimed, “You can’t talk your way out of something you’ve acted your way into.” If you’re going to express your good intent, your behavior needs to match.

I constantly remind myself that I can’t control other people’s perception of me; I can only control my behavior. I hope these tips help you work on your behavior rather than apologize for it unnecessarily.

Good luck,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

11 thoughts on “Stop Apologizing”

  1. Charles

    Thank you, Justin. I will seek to apply this advice.

    1. Justin Hale

      Glad I could help!

  2. Dave

    How should one deal with people who over apologize?

  3. Kristi

    There is so much power in learning more about this aspect of communication, especially being a female in a male-dominated work environment. I have learned not to blanket apologize, because I may not be wrong or sorry. If I do apologize, I make sure I am clear about my error and go back to the conversation fundamentals.

  4. Kim Boggess

    Love this simple helpful track of steps with easy to understand examples. Now to put it into practice.

  5. Ron

    I’ve heard that a blameless apology is a potentially good way to acknowledge the other’s feelings of being hurt while not directly accepting responsibility for their situation in order to move forward with what you can help them with now. I.e. I’m sorry for your disappointment but I’m here and able to help you with doing this now if you would like.

  6. Kim

    Thank you Justin! I apologize way too much 🙁

  7. Liz Nishimura

    The question immediately triggers the thought of “Is Stepped On being gaslit?” In a dysfunctional relationship it is not uncommon for one person to be blamed for the short comings of the other person. Then to keep the relationship going, the blamed person apologizes over and over again. This was my experience in my first marriage. It was always my fault.

    Now in my second marriage we use Crucial Conversations to get over the rough spots and have mutual respect and love for each other. Thanks Crucial Learning!

  8. Arun Dravid

    Hello Justin,
    Being over & repeatedly apologetic not only starts manifesting an impression in others minds which necessarily may not be true but creates a lot of stress to the individual making him/her vulnerable, weak , insecure & above all losing confidence.
    A nice eye opener from your side… thanks a ton

  9. Marina Shelton

    I am in a situation right now, where I went over “Crucial Conversation” book last night, all the highlights I had made, to face this upcoming Crucial Conversations meeting, ensuring I am appliying the steps and skills presented. This is one that I had not considered, but I will, now that I read this article. Thank you! This series of books have become my everyday resource and practice. Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability have helped me form a great team of bus drivers that understand my requests, changes and deadlines and appreciate the understanding support and listening to them when they need to unload a problem.
    Thank you!

  10. J. Lynn Jones

    This is really helpful. It’s easy to create a habit of apologizing when it would be much better to be in the habit of contrasting when we are misunderstood.

Leave a Reply