Have you ever made a very big, very expensive mistake at work? Or dropped the ball in a major way? Or said something offensive? Snapped at one of your colleagues? Left one of your clients hanging? Treated one of your employees unfairly?
I'm gonna go ahead and raise my hand here. Because I know I've done some of that stuff.
We're human, even at work. Which means that every now and again we're going to screw up. When that happens (and it will) apologize and do better next time. Not sure how to stumble through an apology at work? (Because... um, hello, awkward!) Here's how to get it right.
1. Apologize. Don't give excuses.
Have you ever heard that saying, "Never ruin an apology with an excuse?" It's a good one. Get to know the difference between apologies and their ugly stepsisters, excuses. An apology does two things 1) expresses responsibility, which means fessing up to doing something wrong; and 2) demonstrates remorse for having done so.
An excuse admits no wrongdoing and expresses no remorse, and it's only going to piss off the person you've wronged. Admitting your wrongdoing and expressing remorse is the way to go. Expressing humility puts you in a vulnerable position, but it does wonders for relationship maintenance.
2. Don't apologize if you don't mean it.
If you can't say why you were wrong you probably don't mean it. Have you ever been in an argument with a romantic partner only to have the person you're arguing with suddenly say "sorry," hoping to sweep the issue under the carpet? This is transparent, infuriating and obviously just a ploy to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.
A misplaced "sorry" stings even more when it's said sarcastically. If you want your sparring partner dig in their heels I recommend you try this. People can tell if you say sorry without meaning it. Don't do it. If you're not sorry you need to stand your ground and say so. Never say sorry just to shut someone up.
3. Be clear.
Say what you did wrong and express regret -- these are the two ingredients of a good apology. Don't give the willy-nilly and often-used phrase "I'm sorry you feel that way" unless you want to get throat-punched or see someone flip a table.
"I'm sorry you feel that way" is a passive-aggressive non-apology, turning the responsibility right back to the offended individual. For an apology to be effective you have to own up to your wrongdoing.
If the situation is complicated, you should be clear on what you are and aren't apologizing for. You don't need to take the blame for everything if you're not responsible for everything.
4. Apologize. Then listen.
People think of apologies as one-sided events, but it takes two. A good apology allows the offended individual an opportunity to seek clarity or express anger.
People hold on to frustration and anger when they're offended. An apology opens the door (and in some cases the floodgates) for someone to finally express how they feel.
When you offer an apology you should allow for the other person to also express themselves. Your apology may or may not be accepted right away. Which brings me to the next point...
5. No strings attached.
An apology is not authentic if there are strings attached. In other words, you can't demand forgiveness. Of course, when apologizing you hope to be forgiven, but an apology isn't about you. It's about making things right and expressing remorse.
Don't make your apology about you and your need to be absolved of your sins. Apologizing just to smooth things over or to feel accepted again is a hollow act. You'll likely be forgiven in time, but it's not about you right now. Remember that.
6. Do it in person.
This isn't always necessary, but the bigger the offense the better it is to apologize in person. This gives everybody an opportunity to express themselves fully and hear each other out. The wronged person may need to seek clarity or express things from their perspective, and you owe them that. After all, this is about making things right.
Writing an apology email from a safe distance will seem appealing, but if you feel you really owe someone an apology do it in person. And don't even think about sending an apology in a text message. Seriously, put down your phone.
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