How to Apologise in Writing Without Apologising for Your ‘Bad’ English
[This is an updated version of a previous blog post]
You’re in front of your computer about to craft a written apology in English to your client.
Your fingers hover over the keyboard and your first thoughts are on what you think you don’t have – the right words, the correct grammar, the eloquent sentence and you end up spending an hour crafting your email with the help of Google Translate.
Your fear of writing correct English is so great that you end your email by apologising for your ‘bad’ English.
In an instant, your reader’s attention is diverted away from the real apology in your email. It’s as if you’re asking your reader to focus on your English and not on the real apology.
It’s as if you’re asking your reader to forgive you for those mistakes.
Let’s put to one side your English and address the real apology instead.
Written apologies are super hard to write. They’re uncomfortable because you don’t want to appear weak or submissive and sometimes, you feel that it shouldn’t be you doing the apologising because you believe an apology is not needed. You resent having to apologise.
But apologise you must for whatever reason.
Your instinct is to write a long-winded apology explaining in detail the reason for the apology. You mistakenly believe your reader wants or needs this.
It’s the writing of that long-winded explanation in English that causes you stress. The long email requires the right words and complex sentences and the right tone. That’s why you labour over it and conclude the email apologising for your English. Maybe you want your reader to acknowledge your hard work and make some concessions for any language errors.
It doesn’t have to be so hard and frustrating.
If you saw the apology, not as a way to redeem yourself or make excuses but as a way to communicate with the other person, you wouldn’t stress over your English because you’d be focused on them, not on yourself.
When you reflect on the purpose of your apology, why it’s important to the recipient (not you) and how to remedy the situation, you’ll find yourself writing a shorter email.
In this post, I want to share with you 3 different business apologies for 3 different scenarios and offer you a shorter, stress-free written example you could use.
3 different types of business apology with a written example you might find useful.
#1: Where there’s been no mistake
Things always change at work. Sales launches get postponed, meetings get cancelled, suppliers let you down and the list goes on.
Instead of writing a long-winded apology admitting to a mistake that isn’t a mistake, reflect on how this change affects your client/colleague and what you can offer them instead (an acknowledgement of their value, a discount and so on.)
“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.”
#2: Where you need to admit liability or responsibility
When we apologise for something wrong we did or something we didn’t do, there is, occasionally, the temptation to qualify the apology with a ‘but’ (“I am sorry, but…”). In other words, to share the responsibility with or worse, blame someone else. “I’m sorry, but …” is not a sincere apology.
Or to give a detailed explanation, “I am sorry I missed the meeting but as I mentioned on the phone, my babysitter was ill and could not work and my husband is out of town…” As the reader, I don’t want your lame excuses.
Instead of involving someone else or giving too much detail, give a short apology and show what you’ve done to remedy the mistake.
I am sorry I missed the meeting this morning and wasn’t able to present the projected sales figures for the second half of this year for your proposal.
Thank you for your understanding.
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.
My apologies once again.”
#3: When you get angry and say things you regret
Some people may say that we shouldn’t admit moments of anger in writing and it is hard, but if you acknowledge your error of judgment and record it in your email of apology, your relationship with your colleagues and clients will only strengthen.
Once again, the focus is not on you but on them.
I am sorry I overreacted yesterday to the news of my sales team’s restructuring. I apologise for making inappropriate comments about your decision.
I realise 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.”
10 things to help keep your email brief
#1: Overtly state you are sorry. “I apologise.” “I’m sorry.” “I regret.”
#2: Ask the reader to accept your apology
#3: Summarise what happened to reflect your understanding
#4: Offer remedies, if they are needed
#5: Address only the apology in your note. Keep it to this one subject.
#6: 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.
#7: 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.”
#8: Don’t globalise the issue. Apologise 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.”
#9: 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.”
#10: Most importantly, don’t mention your English. That’s not the subject of your email.
Focus on your reader and not yourself. Imagine what they want to read.
A long-winded email with lots of excuses and blaming or a crisp, concise acknowledgement of an error or misunderstanding and a clear remedy?
Once you’re clear, the English words you have will flow and you’ll craft that sincere apology in half the time.