A quick search of my email reveals 70 messages in which the recipient or I are apologizing to one another. We are sorry for slow replies and for not seeing messages earlier; we apologize for doing something as intrusive as sending an email in the first place. We apologize for doing things that were necessary parts of our jobs, and for not doing things that we didn’t actually want to do at all.
I surveyed my correspondence after seeing this painfully relatable tweet from comedy writer Emily Murnane. It has been retweeted 21,000 times; clearly I’m not the only person with an inbox full of reflexive apologies.
My Quartz at Work colleague Leah Fessler has written frequently on the cheerful emojis, exclamation points, and superfluous “sorry!”s that people—especially female people—incorporate all too frequently in their workplace communications. Linguist Susan Herring calls them “hedges”: hedges against seeming too demanding or rude, against taking up a modicum of time or space more than the smallest amount possible.
Fortunately, Murnane’s hilarious articulation of this particular problem prompted hundreds of replies, many of them offering helpful alternatives to an unneeded apology.
Like replacing “sorry!” with “thank you”:
Downloading the Just NOT Sorry Gmail plug-in (which Fessler has written about):
Or finding a new, less self-abnegating way to convey disapproval: