I received a comment from a reader in response to last week’s post about saying sorry in business. The reader didn’t agree that we should shoulder the entire mistake if we were not solely responsible for the mistake. She felt it was “undemocratic and unfair”.  

She’s not alone in thinking that an apology means we’re taking responsibility for situations not caused by us. It shows us as being submissive and perhaps even weak.

I say NO!

A good apology means we care about the work we do and the people with whom we work. It means we take pride in work, value people and can be trusted. This is true for every professional regardless of how junior or senior they are in a company.

I came across this excellent business writing resource the other day when researching this post. The post outlined some examples of apology emails/letters you may have to write or have written. 

I’d like to share them here with you and give you an example of how the different types of apology could look like. 

I have adapted each example.

Business Apology Example of No Error (where no mistake has been made)

I’ve just learned from Harry that the rescheduling of our annual conference has affected your holiday plans.  We have the new product launching in the next few weeks, and it will be presented to our customers at the conference. I’m sure the change of date was a disappointment for you, but as you know, this is a crucial time for us and we need your expertise and support in educating our customers about the product.

I am sorry the restructure requires your department to share printing and copying resources for the next two months. It will cause delays for you during this period, so please take this into account in your planning. Once the restructure is complete, we’ll have 30% capacity increase, so the inconvenience is well worth it.


Business Apology Example of Need to Admit Liability (Or Responsibility) 

Dear Sinead,

I am sorry I missed your meeting this morning. I know I was scheduled to provide the projected sales figures for the second half of this year for your proposal, and I’m sorry I let you down.

As I mentioned when I called, my babysitter was ill and could not work, and my husband is out of town. I had to wait until my sister could arrive to babysit before I could leave for work.

I have emailed the figures to everyone in the meeting and explained my absence and how this data supports your proposal. If there is anything else I can do to make up for my absence at the meeting, please let me know.

Please accept my apology.

Alesha


 
Nobody likes unpleasant situations and we’ll do anything to avoid them. However, if your mistake has important consequences sending a note or email indicates you take the mistake seriously, and are truly sorry.
 
Even if the situation is beyond your control and not technically your fault or mistake (like in the example above), the consequences affect other people and taking responsibility for the situation shows you’re serious, sincere and to be trusted.
 
 
When You Get Angry and Say Things You Regret

Dear Peter:

I am sorry I overreacted yesterday to the news of my sales team’s restructuring. I apologize for making inappropriate comments about your decision.

I realize since we talked that I depend on Cristina’s contribution, and don’t want to lose her enthusiasm and expertise on my team. However, you are right to decide she is ready to take on a more senior role.

I regret my comments, and you have my promise to support the team restructure fully. Please accept my apology.

Sincerely,

Justin

 

Some people may say that we shouldn’t admit these moments of anger in writing and it is hard, but if you admit your error of judgment and record it and the apology, your relationship with your colleagues and clients will only strengthen.

 
 
It takes a strong person to admit their mistakes.
 

Some Guidelines: (as given by the author of the resource post)

  • Overtly state you are sorry.  “I apologize.” “I’m sorry.” “I regret.” 
  • Ask the reader to accept your apology.
  • Summarize what happened, to reflect your understanding.
  • Offer remedies, if this is needed.
  • Address only the apology in your note. Keep it to this one subject.
  • Don’t infer your reader was also to blame. Not: “I only wish you had been more clear my attendance was needed.” Address only your own actions.
  • Don’t blame anyone else. Not: “My team leader was unclear with his instructions, so I thought I was to present next week, not this week.”
  • Don’t globalize the issue. Apologize for this situation, at this time. Not: “I’m sorry I was late, but you rarely start meetings on time. I thought I would arrive before the meeting started.”
  • Most importantly, don’t use the common “sorry, but” formula. It’s insincere and makes you look angry. Not: “I’m sorry I overreacted, but you were not clear about your instructions.”


 
I know it’s really hard to resist including other people in the mistake but that’s exactly what is needed if you’re to demonstrate you’re sincere with your apology. It may be unfair but that’s just how things are.
 
An apology is not a sign of weakness. 
 
Our words are powerful and a thoughtful and  honest written apology respects you and your recipient and will do wonders for your career.
 
For more business writing tips, check out my e-book Business English Secrets. The section on business writing shows you what you need to write with impact, how to write an elevator pitch and has an essential phrase bank you can refer to time and time again.
 
If you liked this post and you think others could benefit from it, please share it and don’t forget to sign up my free e-guide for more tips on how to be confident and effective communicators in English to succeed in business. By signing up, you’ll also receive my weekly lessons automatically to your inbox.
 
Ciao for now
 
Shanthi 
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