It can be mortifying to make mistakes in any situation. But when it happens at work, it can feel even worse and leave you wanting to dig yourself into a hole. Unfortunately, that isn’t a viable (or mature) option to take – more often than not, you’ll need to apologise.
But when it comes to a professional setting like this, it can get complicated. As such, it’s important to not only know when to say ‘sorry’, but also how to go about it.
The importance of making amends
A good, sincere apology does more than just making amends. In a workplace, messing up can mean jeopardising the rest of the team, and by acknowledging your mistake, it shows that you’re responsible enough to understand its effects.
In addition, there’s your relationship with your colleagues and supervisors. Being genuine can make it easier to not only rebuild trust between you and them, but also help to ease the stress that might have built up due to the mistake, which in turn helps to preserve cohesiveness and productivity in the workplace.
Know the line
That being said, apologising in the wrong way or even at the wrong time can be worse than not doing so at all. If you’re the type to apologise for every minor transgression, it can give your colleagues and supervisors the wrong impression of you.
After all, while you might think it’s just the polite thing to do, you might be perceived as someone meek and insecure, which can damage your professional reputation. Worse, it may make your actual apologies ring hollow, making them more difficult to accept by others.
Although it can be a hard habit to break, it’s important to know which situation requires a formal apology, or when a simple ‘sorry’ will suffice. They should be made when you make mistakes that impact others, such as if you missed a deadline or snapped at a colleague.
Crafting a professional apology
There’s no real one-size-fits-all apology that will work with every single situation – they’ll depend on the context of the situation, as well as who you’re apologising to. However, here are a few tips that you can still follow to make it more effective.
1. Pick the right time (and place) to do it
While some apologies are best said ASAP, there are also times where you should wait a while before you do so, especially if the situation is severe. It’s best to do it when everyone’s calmed down and has fully processed what happened.
2. Don't make excuses
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” – while it seems harmless at first, making excuses like this only shows that you’re trying to avoid responsibility for your mistakes, which can come off badly to the person you’re apologising to! Instead, be clear and concise about acknowledging what you did wrong and how it affected them.
3. Keep it short
Try not to dwell on the issue and go straight to the point – apologise for what you did and move on. A long and rambly explanation of your action may not be what the other person wants, and can feel uncomfortable.
4. Explain how you will fix the mistake
It isn’t enough to just say ‘sorry’ over and over – you’ll need to have a plan on how you’ll prevent the same mistake from happening again. Using the example of missing an important deadline, you can tell your colleagues that you’ve taken steps to better organise your schedule and reminders.
5. Say it, and mean it
The last thing anyone wants is to hear a long, drawn-out apology, and then see the same person do it again. Apologising for something doesn’t mean you get to sweep the incident under the rug, so if you say that you’ll work on managing your deadlines, then follow through with it!
It can be nerve-wracking at first, but knowing when to apologise is an essential part of workplace communication, as well as maintaining good work relationships. By being genuine in recognising your shortcomings, it’s also an opportunity for you to learn how to not only be a better employee, but a better person, too.