Do Women Apologize Too Much?

The short answer is yes. But the reasons are important. A New York Times writer distinguishes between apologizing as “an acknowledgment of an offense or failure” and other reasons to say “I’m sorry.”

Women are more likely to apologize when it’s not their fault. I was in another woman’s path in a doorway, and she said, “I’m sorry.” She did nothing wrong—and neither did I, but she meant it as a sign of politeness. In these situations, “Excuse me” may be more fitting.

Worse, some women seem to apologize by habit. If I accidentally step on your foot, please don’t apologize. That’s squarely on me.

But apologizes also express sympathy or empathy. The author gives an example of a woman who dropped her bag in a puddle. She said to the woman, “I’m sorry,” and was told not to apologize. But it wasn’t that kind of apology. She really meant, “That’s too bad your bag is all wet,” which is an expression of sympathy. And maybe, “I’ve been there and can relate,” which is closer to empathy. Similarly, we say, “I’m sorry,” as an expression of sympathy when someone dies.

The article references studies published in Psychological Science that conclude, “[M]en apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” Good point, but that’s not what all apologies imply. The Times author suggests understanding why you apologize and gives us permission to apologize just for politeness, at times. This may be more expected of women, anyway.

Image source.


  • Do you observe women apologizing more than men do? In what situations?

  • Write down all of your apologies for a week—in person and in writing. Assess the reason for each. What do you conclude about how and how often you apologize?

  • How do apologizes demonstrate accountability as a leadership character dimension?