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3 Tips for Offering Effective Apologies


Some apologies are absolutely necessary. Others may feel like overkill, and sometimes it is unclear whether to apologize or instead refrain from calling attention to your foibles. When you mess up at work, learn how to offer an effective apology, and you may strengthen your position and gain respect.

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1. Be Sincere and Specific

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Sincerity should go without saying. If you feel the need to apologize, at least sound like you mean it. Make a specific statement for why you are apologizing, for example, “I am sorry I miscalculated how long it would take to finish all three reports. The first two were completed on time, but the third one is late. It is now complete; next time I will try to estimate time needed correctly.”

The most important aspects of this apology are:

  • Owning exactly what you did wrong, 
  • Being specific, and 
  • Acknowledging that you have learned from your mistakes.

2. Don’t Go Overboard

Repeated apologies and breast-beating belong in the theatre. Unless you are a professional actor, they do not belong in your workplace. A self-deprecating apology will cause people to think less of you.

3. Your Responsibility

Apologize for your own behavior. “I miscalculated how long the reports would take” is different from, “I thought we would get them done faster, but Sue had to leave early and Bob is too slow. Also, Gene said he would help but he didn’t.” If other people contributed to the problem, it may be appropriate to discuss this with your boss instead of simply taking all of the heat. But remember to own your part in it. It is up to the boss to decide whether your miscalculation was reasonable and Gene was supposed to help, or whether you needed to give people more time.

An effective apology will gain you respect. Not apologizing when you need to may breed resentment among those who feel inconvenienced or wronged by your actions. Therefore, offer an acknowledgement or apology that shows you take responsibility, then learn from your mistakes and move on.

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