[ctt template=”8″ link=”2OPFc” via=”no” ]Saying sorry has three parts. I am sorry; it’s my fault; what can I do to make it right?[/ctt]

When was the last time you had to apologise to a colleague, your team or your boss for something you did or didn’t do?

How did you feel?

Was it easy?

Did you take full responsibility or did you try and find an excuse or, worse still, blame someone else?

Let’s face it, admitting a mistake is difficult but having to apologise for it is even harder. Some people will do anything to avoid or delay the moment of truth.

The trouble is the longer you don’t apologise, the harder things become. Resentment between you and the other person grows and eventually it becomes harder and harder to move forward.

Professional apologies are good because:
  • They take the energy out of the conflict;
  • They separate time into before and after, in other words, the problem and the solution; and
  • They allow for people to recognise shared responsibility

There are some bad ways of apologising. Here are a few examples,

  • I’m sorry you feel this way
  • I’m sorry but you have to admit it wasn’t clear
  • I cannot be the only one to take the blame – this was a team effort.


Source: CBS News

The above examples are bad because they show the person is clearly NOT sincere in their apology and unwilling to accept responsibility for his or her action or inaction.

So how should we apologise in a way that shows we’re sincere, clears the air and allows our professional relationship to move forward?

Here are 7 tips from an article I read on CBS News.

#Tip 1 – Separate your apology from your explanation

“I’m sorry you think I misled you, but you have to appreciate that the decisions kept changing making it extremely difficult to work under those conditions”.

How many of us have tried that one? The trouble with this is the apology doesn’t stand on its own. Of course, you want the other person to understand your reasons for doing or not doing something but they cannot hear that at the same time as the apology.  All they will hear is your explanation (read: excuses).

Instead, just apologise. Don’t offer any explanation until your apology has been accepted. Then you can explain yourself.

#Tip 2:  Offer an explanation but don’t insist on it

“I am willing to explain what happened but only if you want me to. Otherwise, I’d prefer to put this behind us and move forward”.

By offering to explain, you’re leaving it to the other person to discuss this further. In other words, the ball is in their court. If they don’t want or need your explanation or to discuss matters, don’t push it.

This shows your ability to apologise, to take responsibility and not to bear grudges (feel resentment).

#Tip 3: Try and apologise face to face

Professional apologies are still personal, so if you can, try and apologise face-to-face. If that’s not possible, do it via a video call like Skype or What’s App. The next level is phone and finally email, but not What’s App or text.

#Tip 4: Don’t assume you know what will make it right, but be prepared with options

If the issue you’re apologising for needs a resolution, ask the other person what they believe would solve the problem. You could have some ideas of your own but don’t offer them first. Be prepared to ask for and to listen to the other person’s suggestions.

That would demonstrate an acceptance of your mistake and humility towards the other person.

#Tip 5: Own more than your part of the mistake

When we make a mistake, we tend to try and “share” the mistake with another person. However, if you want to move your business relationship forward, playing the guilt game is not going to help.

“I may have missed the deadline for the sales report, but if you hadn’t taken so long in sending me the figures, this wouldn’t have happened”. Seem familiar?

You have to own your entire part of the mistake without demanding that the other person accept their part. This usually means owning the entire problem in your apology.

#Tip 6: Focus on what happens next

Close the issue and work out what needs to be done next. Time heals and allows feelings of hurt and anger to pass, but action accelerates it.

#Tip 7: Move on

Don’t allow bad feelings to fester or linger. Draw a line under the issue and move on.

If the other person chooses to bring the issue up again, simply tell them, “When I apologised and you accepted it, I considered the matter closed.”

Professional apologies allow you to resolve issues, change the direction of a relationship and move forward. It is hard but if you ignore it, your relationships will deteriorate and your stress levels will only increase.

I realise that different national and corporate cultures deal with professional apologies in a variety of ways. Some cultures welcome open discussions while others don’t. However, for our mental and physical well-being, I think we should all try to have an open dialogue with our co-workers ,take responsibility for our mistakes and show sincerity when doing so.

If you’d like to know more about how to succeed in business communication in English, why not take a look at my e-book, Business English Secrets. It covers 4 key areas of business English communication and gives you plenty of tips. It’s available on Amazon.

Next week, I’ll share with you  how to apologise in writing.

Thank you for reading.

Ciao for now


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