How To Apologize Professionally for a Mistake (With Examples)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated August 8, 2022 | Published January 22, 2021
Updated August 8, 2022
Published January 22, 2021
Misunderstandings and mistakes are common occurrences in every workplace. To maintain a strong working relationship, it may be necessary to apologize on occasion for a mistake or action. The act of offering an apology can help show your acknowledgment of an issue and your attempts to correct the situation.
In this article, we explain why it's important to apologize at work, what may happen if you don't and how you can apologize for your professional mistakes, and we provide some tips and examples of email and in-person apologies to guide you.
Why is it important to apologize?
You may end up in a situation at work that warrants an apology from you. You may have been late for work, missed an important deadline or displayed uncharacteristic behavior. There are several reasons why It's important to apologize for your actions for several reasons, including:
An apology shows you acknowledge your actions
In addition to showing you acknowledge your part in a situation, you also acknowledge how your actions could have affected those you work with. For example, if you apologize for your tardiness, you're acknowledging that you were late to work, but you're also showing your coworkers you understand how your coming to work late can directly affect the projects you're working on together.
An apology can help rebuild trust
Certain actions can break trust among coworkers, but your apology can help improve the situation and help your coworker trust you again. When colleagues trust each other, they are usually more productive, creative, team-orientated and collaborative, which helps improve the entire workplace.
An apology may decrease workplace stress
If knowing that you've upset someone else has caused you stress, then apologizing may ease any negative feelings. Especially if your coworker or manager accepts your sincere apology, you may feel more confident that you can continue your workplace relationship as it was before the incident. Apologizing can ease conflict and ensure a productive work environment.
An apology improves communication
When you're able to apologize to others in the workplace, communication is likely to improve. All parties can better understand each other and be more open to communicating about future issues.
What could happen if you don't apologize?
Apologies are important because without them, there are some things that can happen, including:
If there is wrongdoing in the office that goes without apology, you might damage an existing working relationship or prevent one from forming. However, providing an apology can make a relationship even stronger, allowing you to work cohesively with your colleagues and managers.
Neglecting to apologize for your mistakes can affect your career opportunities, as management may find it difficult to recommend you for promotions or even lateral moves to another department. Apologizing shows that you recognize your mistakes and want to make a sincere effort to correct them and prevent them from happening again. The action of apologizing shows your management team that you can take responsibility and work well with others.
It's possible that those you work with will have an incorrect impression of you if you don't apologize for actions that have affected someone else. However, if you express remorse for something you've done, an apology can actually increase a coworker's impression of you and make them happier and more excited to work alongside you.
Related: How To React to Mistakes at Work
How to apologize for a mistake at work
Follow these steps to deliver an effective apology to someone you work with:
1. Apologize soon after the incident
An apology that comes soon after an incident can let the other party know you regret your actions, and can hopefully help you continue your working relationship without further incidence. However, sometimes it may be best to wait a little longer to issue an apology, like in the case of a larger escalation. Assess the situation and see if all involved parties would be best off having the space and opportunity to process the situation before deciding when to apologize.
2. Decide how you'll apologize
What you're apologizing for can determine if it's most appropriate to apologize in person or if an email or alternative method would suffice. For larger transgressions, like if you missed an important client meeting, consider apologizing to your project partner in person. However, if you're apologizing for being slightly late one time, then it's likely appropriate to apologize via email. Consider just a quick note of apology so that your manager knows you recognize your error and resolve to prevent it from happening again.
3. Address your recipient by name
It's respectful to address the person you're apologizing to by name, whether they are a coworker, manager, client or customer. This adds sincerity to what you're saying. You addressing them by name shows them you're considering how your actions affected them directly and personally.
4. Apologize with sincerity
If you aren't sincere with your apology, it may be best to engage in an open conversation with the other person about the situation instead. This can help both of you understand each other better, and you may discover that the situation does warrant an apology from you after all. An insincere apology can send the wrong impression to the other person, which can damage your working relationship.
However, try reflecting on the situation and considering the other person's feelings. Think through if they are valid and how your actions may have inadvertently affected them or their work. If you can acknowledge your part in the situation, then you may be able to offer a sincere apology after some thought.
5. Validate how the other person feels
It's important to validate how the other person feels. Even if you don't understand their exact position in the matter, acknowledging their feelings and forming your apology in a way that shows them you believe their feelings to be valid can make a large difference. If possible, include their feelings in your apology. For example, you can say, "I completely understand how my actions disappointed you."
6. Admit to your responsibility
As part of your apology, take responsibility for your actions. Refrain from making excuses, even if you believe them to be valid. While you may want to explain yourself so the other party understands how this situation may have happened, also be sure they know that you're aware of and sorry for how your actions affected others.
Before providing a rationale, consider if your reasoning will make a positive difference in your professional relationship, or if by explaining you can avoid similar situations in the future. If so, explore how you can include these details without sounding like you're making up excuses or being defensive.
7. Explain how you'll correct the mistake
To make the largest impact with your apology, have a plan for how you'll correct the mistake. This shows that you put some thought into how you can make things right. You can also share your intentions for not allowing the same mistake to happen again, although it's important that you're realistic about this promise. For example, it may not be realistic to tell your manager you'll never be late again. There could be situations completely out of your control that can contribute to lateness.
8. Keep your promises
Once you've shared how you'll correct the problem, keep your promises. Failing to follow through on your word can negate the positive benefits of your apology and also make it harder for the other person to trust you. If you do everything you promised you would, it reiterates your sincerity and shows that you're committed to a cohesive professional relationship.
Related: Steps To Handle Criticism at Work
Examples of professional apologies
Here are some examples of apologies you can use as guidance if you need to offer an apology professionally:
You may choose an in-person apology if your actions were larger and caused more of a harmful effect in the workplace. Consider this apology the next time you want to apologize to someone in-person:
Hi, Janet. I wanted to stop by to apologize for my behavior yesterday. I mistakenly allowed my personal frustrations from outside of work to affect how I approached others. It was unacceptable behavior that I'm sincerely sorry for. I appreciate and respect you as a colleague, and want to continue to have a good working relationship. I know my actions set the tone for the meeting and hurt your feelings.
I promise this won't happen again because I'm immediately creating a positive work-life balance to make sure of it. I hope you'll accept my apology and that you'll be able to continue to trust me as your coworker. Is there anything additional I can do to make it up to you?
Example of a work apology email
It's acceptable to send an apology email to someone for smaller transgressions or when you're unable to meet in person. Consider this example of an email apology:
Subject: My Apology
I'm sending this email because I want to apologize to you for missing my deadline on our joint project. I understand how this is frustrating, and I take full responsibility for the project being turned in late. I have also let Mr. Jones know that it's my fault we went past our due date, as I know you couldn't complete your work until I did mine.
Please know that I'm committed to preventing this from happening again. I promise I'll take my responsibilities seriously and will aim to complete my part of our future projects before the due date. Additionally, if I'm struggling with any expectations, including the due date, I'll address it with you and Mr. Jones as soon as possible so we can make the necessary adjustments before it becomes an issue.
I value you as a teammate and hope we can move past this incident. I'm open to any feedback you may have for me.
Tips for apologizing at work
Here are some tips you can use when you are apologizing to someone at work:
Pay special attention to your body language. Even though your words are sincere, your body language can send a different message. Avoid crossing your arms and make sure to look the other person in the eye if you're apologizing in person. A relaxed yet professional stance can let the other person know you're engaged in the conversation and mean what you say.
Use the words "I'm sorry" or "I apologize." Consider using these exact words so the other person knows the purpose of your communication. Avoid saying things like, "I didn't mean to miss the meeting," and instead use, "I sincerely apologize for missing the meeting."
Apologize privately. If you're able, find a private space where you can give your apology to the other person. Consider an empty conference room or office or go on a walk outside together. Privacy helps eliminate distractions so you can have an open dialogue about the situation and offer your apology without interruptions.
Focus on your own actions. Even if your actions are in response to another person's, it's best to only focus on your own mistakes when issuing an apology. Try to avoid statements that could seem like you're placing blame on someone else for the situation.
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