Beyond Cookies and “Sorry”: How Do You Apologize at Work?

say sorry at work

So, you screwed up at work. Majorly. How do you apologize at work, after a huge (or small) mishap? Giving an apology to a client differs than sending one to your childhood best friend. Your client will not shrug their shoulders and offer to bring over a bucket of your favorite ice cream.
How do you show your professional chops by giving an apology and regaining lost trust to clients and/or colleagues?

First things first: own your mistake.

Part of moving forward is recognizing where you are right now. Take the time to show the person or persons you’ve erred you made a mistake. Laine Schmidt, an expert and professional coach encourages, ”Show honesty, humility and a determination to make it right. This isn’t a time to be prideful”. People respect others who show their vulnerable side; not everyone can be perfect. By owning up to your mishap, you’re facing the consequences, and show you’re ready to take steps to right the wrong.

Apologize—to everyone.

Now that you’ve owned up to your mistake, approach the people you’ve offended and make amends. The most important two factors are: keep the apology short and sweet. No need to ramble on how awful you feel. Simply share the mistake you made and the steps you’re taking to avoid making it again. The second factor is: do this in-person. This may be tough, but it’s essential in showing your commitment to professionalism. A work email may seem like the easiest option, but it shows you haven’t truly come to terms with your offense. Nothing shows sincerity more than an in-person conversation.

Not sure how to formulate your apology?

According to studies conducted by Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, the most effective apology includes 6 steps:

1. Expression of regret

2. Explanation of what went wrong

3. Acknowledgment of responsibility

4. Declaration of repentance

5. Offer of repair

6. Request for forgiveness

This simple formula paves the way if you’re struggling in how to say sorry. Remember to remain brief and authentic in your interaction.

Create the steps to avoid making the same mistake

Once you’ve apologized, now is the time to rebuild back the trust in the relationship. Think deeply about the individual steps that led you to the poor choice made. What questions can you pose to yourself that will keep you in check? For example, if you became angry at a co-worker and became short tempered, what were the big things that made you act this way? What were the small things? Did you skip breakfast and lunch? Were you running late to an appointment? Did they make a reoccurring mistake for the umpteenth time? Examine what led to your mistake and trace your steps back. Then, put in checks. Make sure you have snacks at your desk if you’re unable to get meals; set an alarm for your next meeting; or finally have that sit-down with your colleague.

When offering an apology to a client or third-party, you may wish to speak with your legal team beforehand. Depending on the situation and your county’s laws, an apology may count as an act of admission of guilt. If you’re apologizing to a client on behalf of your organization, speak with your boss first. Do this as quickly and quietly as possible—don’t let this become an excuse to avoid saying sorry!

Everyone messes up. Once you’ve owned up to your mistake and have committed to making reparations, don’t keep crucifying yourself. Put it on the shelf as a learning lesson and move forward. Those around you will follow suit.

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