We all make mistakes, and at some point in our careers, we’ll have to apologize to someone. Working remotely makes it more difficult and more important to quickly deliver an apology. Time and distance can damage relationships, while the well-executed apology can establish and enhance your credibility and help you build trust.
Here are the 6 steps to use for a successful apology:
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.
Say it live
Unless it’s impossible, speak your apology live – whether in-person or on a video call. The person receiving the apology needs to see your humility, or even hear it on the phone. Less effective is an email apology, better to send a well-crafted handwritten note.
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.
Omit the “but”
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 “but” and its first cousin, “however.”
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.
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 it graciously. It’s all in a day’s work.
To read more on this topic, take a look at my colleague’s newsletter: Oops. The mistake that still haunts me 15 years later.