While you might want to fade into the nearest bush Homer Simpson–style when you’ve messed up at work, it’s not really feasible—or mature—to take a duck-and-cover approach. You need to apologize. If not, you can make the situation worse or damage your professional relationships or reputation, among other consequences. So, you need to be equipped with the right words to tactfully address less-than-comfortable situations. (Hint: The first right words are usually “I’m sorry.”)
- Acknowledge what happened. …
- Admit your mistake, but don’t focus on your initial intentions. …
- Concentrate on what you learned. …
- Suggest a plan or solution. …
- Apologizing too much. …
- Taking the blame for things that aren’t your responsibility.
A perfect apology in three steps | Jahan Kalantar | TEDxSydney
What could happen if you don’t apologize?
Apologies are important because without them, there are some things that can happen, including:
If there is wrongdoing in the office that goes without apology, you might damage an existing working relationship or prevent one from forming. However, providing an apology can make a relationship even stronger, allowing you to work cohesively with your colleagues and managers.
Neglecting to apologize for your mistakes can affect your career opportunities, as management may find it difficult to recommend you for promotions or even lateral moves to another department. Apologizing shows that you recognize your mistakes and want to make a sincere effort to correct them and prevent them from happening again. The action of apologizing shows your management team that you can take responsibility and work well with others.
Its possible that those you work with will have an incorrect impression of you if you dont apologize for actions that have affected someone else. However, if you express remorse for something youve done, an apology can actually increase a coworkers impression of you and make them happier and more excited to work alongside you.
Why is it important to apologize?
You may end up in a situation at work that warrants an apology from you. You may have been late for work, missed an important deadline or displayed uncharacteristic behavior. There are several reasons why Its important to apologize for your actions for several reasons, including:
An apology shows you acknowledge your actions
In addition to showing you acknowledge your part in a situation, you also acknowledge how your actions could have affected those you work with. For example, if you apologize for your tardiness, youre acknowledging that you were late to work, but youre also showing your coworkers you understand how your coming to work late can directly affect the projects youre working on together.
An apology can help rebuild trust
Certain actions can break trust among coworkers, but your apology can help improve the situation and help your coworker trust you again. When colleagues trust each other, they are usually more productive, creative, team-orientated and collaborative, which helps improve the entire workplace.
An apology may decrease workplace stress
If knowing that youve upset someone else has caused you stress, then apologizing may ease any negative feelings. Especially if your coworker or manager accepts your sincere apology, you may feel more confident that you can continue your workplace relationship as it was before the incident. Apologizing can ease conflict and ensure a productive work environment.
An apology improves communication
When youre able to apologize to others in the workplace, communication is likely to improve. All parties can better understand each other and be more open to communicating about future issues.
How to apologize for a mistake at work
Follow these steps to deliver an effective apology to someone you work with:
1. Apologize soon after the incident
An apology that comes soon after an incident can let the other party know you regret your actions, and can hopefully help you continue your working relationship without further incidence. However, sometimes it may be best to wait a little longer to issue an apology, like in the case of a larger escalation. Assess the situation and see if all involved parties would be best off having the space and opportunity to process the situation before deciding when to apologize.
2. Decide how youll apologize
What youre apologizing for can determine if its most appropriate to apologize in person or if an email or alternative method would suffice. For larger transgressions, like if you missed an important client meeting, consider apologizing to your project partner in person. However, if youre apologizing for being slightly late one time, then its likely appropriate to apologize via email. Consider just a quick note of apology so that your manager knows you recognize your error and resolve to prevent it from happening again.
3. Address your recipient by name
Its respectful to address the person youre apologizing to by name, whether they are a coworker, manager, client or customer. This adds sincerity to what youre saying. You addressing them by name shows them youre considering how your actions affected them directly and personally.
4. Apologize with sincerity
If you arent sincere with your apology, it may be best to engage in an open conversation with the other person about the situation instead. This can help both of you understand each other better, and you may discover that the situation does warrant an apology from you after all. An insincere apology can send the wrong impression to the other person, which can damage your working relationship.
However, try reflecting on the situation and considering the other persons feelings. Think through if they are valid and how your actions may have inadvertently affected them or their work. If you can acknowledge your part in the situation, then you may be able to offer a sincere apology after some thought.
5. Validate how the other person feels
Its important to validate how the other person feels. Even if you dont understand their exact position in the matter, acknowledging their feelings and forming your apology in a way that shows them you believe their feelings to be valid can make a large difference. If possible, include their feelings in your apology. For example, you can say, “I completely understand how my actions disappointed you.”
6. Admit to your responsibility
As part of your apology, take responsibility for your actions. Refrain from making excuses, even if you believe them to be valid. While you may want to explain yourself so the other party understands how this situation may have happened, also be sure they know that youre aware of and sorry for how your actions affected others.
Before providing a rationale, consider if your reasoning will make a positive difference in your professional relationship, or if by explaining you can avoid similar situations in the future. If so, explore how you can include these details without sounding like youre making up excuses or being defensive.
7. Explain how youll correct the mistake
To make the largest impact with your apology, have a plan for how youll correct the mistake. This shows that you put some thought into how you can make things right. You can also share your intentions for not allowing the same mistake to happen again, although its important that youre realistic about this promise. For example, it may not be realistic to tell your manager youll never be late again. There could be situations completely out of your control that can contribute to lateness.
8. Keep your promises
Once youve shared how youll correct the problem, keep your promises. Failing to follow through on your word can negate the positive benefits of your apology and also make it harder for the other person to trust you. If you do everything you promised you would, it reiterates your sincerity and shows that youre committed to a cohesive professional relationship.
Examples of professional apologies
Here are some examples of apologies you can use as guidance if you need to offer an apology professionally:
You may choose an in-person apology if your actions were larger and caused more of a harmful effect in the workplace. Consider this apology the next time you want to apologize to someone in-person:
Hi, Janet. I wanted to stop by to apologize for my behavior yesterday. I mistakenly allowed my personal frustrations from outside of work to affect how I approached others. It was unacceptable behavior that Im sincerely sorry for. I appreciate and respect you as a colleague, and want to continue to have a good working relationship. I know my actions set the tone for the meeting and hurt your feelings.
I promise this wont happen again because Im immediately creating a positive work-life balance to make sure of it. I hope youll accept my apology and that youll be able to continue to trust me as your coworker. Is there anything additional I can do to make it up to you?
Example of a work apology email
Its acceptable to send an apology email to someone for smaller transgressions or when youre unable to meet in person. Consider this example of an email apology:
Subject: My Apology
Im sending this email because I want to apologize to you for missing my deadline on our joint project. I understand how this is frustrating, and I take full responsibility for the project being turned in late. I have also let Mr. Jones know that its my fault we went past our due date, as I know you couldnt complete your work until I did mine.
Please know that Im committed to preventing this from happening again. I promise Ill take my responsibilities seriously and will aim to complete my part of our future projects before the due date. Additionally, if Im struggling with any expectations, including the due date, Ill address it with you and Mr. Jones as soon as possible so we can make the necessary adjustments before it becomes an issue.
I value you as a teammate and hope we can move past this incident. Im open to any feedback you may have for me.
Tips for apologizing at work
Here are some tips you can use when you are apologizing to someone at work:
How do you apologize for a mistake professionally examples?
How to say sorry at the end of an email
- My greatest apologies.
- My most sincere apologies.
- I am deeply sorry.
- I am sincerely sorry.
- I am sorry for my mistakes.
- I am so sorry for the inconvenience.
How do you apologize in a formal way?
- My Apologies. My apologies is another word for “I’m sorry.” It’s rather formal, so it’s fine for business contexts. …
- Pardon/Pardon Me/I Beg Your Pardon. Pardon is a verb which means to allow as a courtesy. …
- Excuse Me. …
- Mea Culpa. …
- Oops/Whoops. …
- My Bad.
How do I apologize to my boss professionally?
- Start from sincerity. …
- Empathize with enthusiasm. …
- Take true responsibility. …
- Validate the other person’s feelings. …
- Don’t make excuses, but provide a rationale. …
- Embrace the awkward. …
- Suggest ways to make up for your mistake. …
- Learn from it.