At some point in your career, you'll have to apologize to a co-worker--to someone up, down or across the corporate ladder. Getting to the next rung on that ladder may depend upon how well you deliver the apology. The well-executed apology establishes your credibility as a decent person and helps others trust you. Conversely, sidestepping a needed apology makes you seem indifferent to the situation--or emotionally disconnected to the person deserving the apology.
Here are the six steps we recommend for a successful apology:
1. Say it soon: Usually, apologies are best said right after realizing you need to utter one. Don't let too much time go by, or you'll diminish the impact of the apology. An immediate "I'm sorry" for a missed or late appointment for example is good manners. For especially egregious errors, the apology may require some extra time and care to construct. That's fine; just don't wait more than a few days.
2. Say it live: Unless it's impossible, speak your apology in-person. The person receiving the apology needs to see your humility, or even hear it on the phone. Less effective is an e-mail apology, better to send a well-crafted handwritten note.
3. Name the deed: Own up to what you did and take responsibility with your apology. Something like "I'm sorry that I talked behind your back" has an authenticity that "I'm sorry I made you feel bad" may lack.
4. Omit the buts: If you say, "I'm sorry I yelled at you during the staff meeting, but you missed the deadline by a week," you're excusing or justifying your actions. That's not apologizing. So leave out the word "but" and its first cousin, "however."
5. Note the pain: Acknowledge that you said or did something that hurt the person: "I realize that my gossiping hurt you and made you feel isolated from our group." This adds a necessary integrity to your apology.
6. Fix it: Ask what would correct your wrong. The person may say that the apology is sufficient. Possibly, they might ask you to speak to their boss or do something else. Hear them out and do what they ask, assuming it's a reasonable request.
Apologizing is never easy. Do it earnestly, though, and people will respect and forgive you. And when someone apologizes to you, accept graciously. It's all in a day's work.
What's your message to the world?