How to Apologize at Work

How to Apologize at Work

Mistakes happen in the workplace all the time. It might be a simple mistake, such as arriving late to work, or a large mistake, such as approving a sale you weren’t supposed to. Apologies often make people feel embarrassed and puts them in an awkward situation. This is especially true when facing a coworker or boss as they are people you must continue to see and work with long after you’ve made a mistake. Learning how and when to professionally apologize will eliminate or ease tense moments.

Why Should You Give Sincere Apologies?

Offering an apology shows remorse while acknowledging hurt or offense caused to another individual. Saying you are sorry shows a willingness to admit wrongdoing, and to fix mistakes. It is the sign of a responsible employee or coworker. Many times, a heartfelt apology will remove any tension, and get things running smoothly again at the workplace. Not apologizing will lower trust in the eyes of those around you, and could affect the job.

When and When Not to Apologize to Someone

While showing remorse for a mistake might seem like the best thing to do, it is possible to take things too far. Apologizing for every little thing, such as being five minutes late to a coffee meeting, or forgetting to staple some papers, can actually do more harm. It shows you lack confidence doing your job. Giving formal apologies too often also lowers the level of sincerity and makes the words less believable. It is best to formally apologize for big mistakes, and just give a caring, quick – I’m sorry – for little things.

How to Apologize for a Mistake Professionally

There are several considerations to giving a professional apology. Follow these steps when saying sorry to a boss or coworker:

  • Assess how much damage has been done due to the mistake so you can gauge the level of apology required
  • Show remorse and be direct by first saying “I apologize”, then mentioning the hurt caused to the other party
  • Admit responsibility for the mistake
  • Make amends by explaining how you intend to fix the mistake and then show your competence by fulfilling the task
  • Promise the same mistake won’t happen twice
  • Accept consequences without complaint because an apology might not eliminate punishment

What Not to Do When You Apologize to Your Boss or Coworkers

There are things that should never be said or done during an apology. This just adds to the mistake, and can make things worse in the office:

  • Never say “I’m sorry, but…” because anything said after the “but” is just an excuse, and not really accepting responsibility
  • Never apologize by text as it is too informal
  • Do not expect forgiveness for every apology because sometimes it takes time for someone to get over the hurt caused
  • Do not blame others for the mistake, even if they were a part of the situation, as it is important for you to apologize for your part of the problem
  • Never compare your mistake to one someone else made in the past

Sending Apology Letters and Emails" width=

While a face-to-face apology is always the best route to take, it isn’t always possible. A letter or email is slightly less embarrassing than facing the hurt party. Letters can also be formally written, demonstrating a level of professionalism. Include all the positive things you would say if done in person, such as saying you’re sorry, showing remorse, admitting fault, and making amends. Choose professional stationary if printing the letter as whimsical options might show a lack of sincerity.

Legal Matters and Apologies

Sometimes, an apology can be considered an admission of guilt. Many people in the workplace are afraid to say they’re sorry for this reason. There is a fear of legal repercussions, or loss of job. Luckily, many states have apology laws that make apologies inadmissible in court. While often used in medical malpractice cases, many other industries use these laws to protect employers and employees from legal action.

Is it Appropriate to Give Gifts When Apologizing to Your Boss?

Apology gifts can be a nice way to show sincerity, but it depends on the work situation. If the office is informal, and employees and employers have a close, almost familial relationship with each other, then a small gift would probably be appropriate. In a more formal setting, a gift might look more like a bribe to get out of trouble.

Two simple words, “I’m sorry”, can often fix small and large mistakes in the office. By showing remorse while not placing blame, an apology can be one of the easiest ways to show others confidence and competence, even after making a mistake.