Apologizing the Right Way

Joe Weinlick
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For management professionals, apologizing at work can feel like a minefield. A poor choice of words or the wrong tone can make the problem worse, particularly in high-profile situations. Whether you are apologizing to the public or to employees, take care to craft your response carefully to rein in the situation and minimize backlash.

Don't Make Excuses

One of the worst things you can do when apologizing at work is to make excuses or try to shift the blame onto someone else. Instead, take responsibility for the situation. If you are apologizing for a team mistake, your employees will appreciate your protection; if the apology is directed at customers, you'll create goodwill by being honest and straightforward.

Keep it Brief

When you feel guilty for your actions, it can be tempting to give a long back-story that explains the situation. Avoid that temptation, particularly when emotions are still high. Apologizing at work should be like any other professional communication effort: concise and to the point. Offer a brief explanation if necessary, and move on. This is especially true when you are apologizing on a public forum such as Twitter or Facebook. Listeners can ask questions to understand the situation or allow it to rest, depending on the problem.

Explain the Solution

One of the most important parts of apologizing at work is to explain your solution. Let listeners know what you have already done to correct the mistake, and explain what you will do in the upcoming days or weeks. By taking control of the situation and providing a solution, you can lift as much of the burden as possible from your customers or colleagues. A solid action plan helps calm the emotions and frustration surrounding the problem.

Be Sincere

Customers and employees can spot a fake or insincere apology instantly. If you don't feel contrite, research the situation first to understand why others are upset. Don't assume that your customers or colleagues are petty or quick to judge; instead, take the time to learn about the consequences of your actions. Gaining insight into your audience can help you create empathy. When you are apologizing at work, show remorse by saying "I'm sorry" and demonstrating an understanding of the ramifications.


Depending on the situation, you may face backlash after apologizing at work. Instead of digging yourself into a hole with further explanations, simply listen. Allow your customers to express their anger and frustration, or let your boss vent his irritation. Acknowledge again that you understand the ramifications of your actions, and then get to work to fix the problem.

Learning the art of apologizing at work is important for management professionals in all industries. By handling the situation with grace and professionalism, you can move past the incident quickly and with fewer consequences.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net



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