Headshot of Grant Kien, assistant professor of communications at Cal State East Bay.

Grant Kien, assistant professor of communications (Photo: Grant Kien)

CSUEB communications expert explains why some of us are always apologizing

  • May 28, 2013 5:00am

“Oh, sorry!” Do you find yourself apologizing…often? A steady stream of "I'm sorry" can help smooth things over so you can go on with your day, but, it can also undermine one's self-esteem and credibility in the eyes of others. CSUEB Assistant Professor of Communications Grant Kien explained why some of us always apologize to Oakland Tribune reporter Angela Hill.

"Some of us do it as a way to avoid any conflict in our lives," Kien said. "And there can be a big cultural dimension as well. For instance, I'm from Toronto, where everyone, male and female, says 'Sorry' all the time. It's annoying. What they actually mean is 'Excuse me.' But it becomes a cultural norm."

From the communications perspective, Kien says research on gender patterns confirms that women develop this habit more so than men. And it's likely on purpose.

"There's the notion of 'intentional communication,' " he said, which says we communicate with an intended effect. It's not accidental. In addition, there's a whole school of sociology called "symbolic interaction," which involves the choice to "perform one's identity," Kien said. "That includes gender performance. So when you pull these theories together, the intent when a woman (overapologizes) is to be seen as a woman." Many women take responsibility for things that are not even their fault because that behavior is perceived in society as a female trait.

Read Oakland Tribune article.


California State University, East Bay is the San Francisco East Bay Area's high-access public university of choice. CSUEB serves the region with campuses in Hayward and Concord, a professional development center in Oakland, and an innovative online campus. With an enrollment of more than 14,000, the University offers a nationally recognized freshman year experience, award-winning curriculum, personalized instruction, and expert faculty. Students choose from among more than 100 professionally focused fields of study for which the University confers bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as an Ed.D. in education. Named a "Best in the West" college, as well as a Best Business School, by the influential Princeton Review, Cal State East Bay is among the region's foremost producers of teachers, business professionals and entrepreneurs, public administrators, health professionals, literary and performing artists, and science and math graduates.

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