I should have just smiled, and shook my head. I should have just said, "No."
Instead, I apologized. "I'm sorry," I said. Then I explained myself. "While I would like to help you, that's just not something I feel comfortable doing."
Saying no wasn't rude; the ask was rude. So why did I say I was sorry? Why did I feel the need to explain, and justify?
Because that's what we do.
But we shouldn't.
In fact, when your answer to a request is "no," science says you often shouldn't try to justify your response.
A 2013 study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found that people who refuse to express remorse maintain a greater sense of control and feel better about themselves than those who do not -- even when they actually made a mistake. (More on that in a minute.)
A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology determined that an apology increases the recipient's feeling of hurt and does not increase their level of forgiveness (assuming I somehow need to be forgiven for not sharing someone else's contact information).
And then there's this: Research described in the book You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation indicates that "excessive" apologizing -- like apologizing when you really don't need to -- can make others feel you lack competence or confidence. The man saw my "I'm sorry" and "I don't feel comfortable" as an opening. My apology sounded like a "maybe," not a "no."
Even though the answer was always going to be "no."
For one thing, I don't share contact information without the person's permission. For another, while I have Sir Richard's email address, I might as well not: I've only used it once, and that was in response to a nice note he sent me.
The second-last thing Richard Branson wants -- even though we did once share a sandwich -- is a random email from me. The last thing he wants is a random email from some guy neither of us knows.
I shouldn't have said I was sorry. I should have just said no.
Just like you don't need to apologize when someone asks you to buy something you didn't ask them to try to sell you. You can just say, "No thanks." Or when someone asks you to donate to a cause. You can just say, "No."
Saying you're sorry when you've done something wrong? That's different. We all make mistakes. We all have things we need to apologize for: words, actions, omissions, failing to step up, step in, show support....
In that case, the first thing you should do is say "I'm sorry." (The last thing you should do is add a disclaimer, like "But I was really mad because..." or "But I did think you were..." or include any statement in any way placing even the smallest amount of blame back on the other person.)
When you do something wrong? You need to apologize.
But you don't need to apologize when someone asks you to do something you don't want to do. You don't need to apologize for things you don't have time to do, or attend, or accomplish when other people ask.
And you definitely don't need to explain yourself. You can just smile faintly and shake your head. You can simply say "No" or "No thanks."
Because you shouldn't feel sorry for saying no to things you don't want to -- much less can't -- do, especially when the request is unsolicited, unwelcome, or unreasonable.
When that happens, the other person should be the one who apologizes.