How to Give an Effective Apology

Take responsibility when you need to

Sorry

“First, I need to apologize. We understand what it means to work on a deadline, and we’ve made that difficult for you.”

I was working on an interview-style article that required a good deal of input from someone else, in this case, two business partners*. While they had agreed to be featured in the publication, they were having a challenging week and were not able to mentally focus on gathering the information I needed.

I sent a gentle reminder and received a gracious response.  Instead of an excuse or request to give them some more time, I received what was essentially a professional apology, the words you read above. I was impressed and am happy to report the article went well and turned out great.

There are times in your professional life (personal too!) when you are going to have to apologize. Hopefully, your reason for an apology isn’t that you’ve purposely behaved like a jerk. But overwhelmed professionals can unintentionally cause stress to others. Maybe you have misplaced something someone else needs, or have forgotten to do something, or are feeling pulled in all directions and get snippy with a colleague. In those cases and more, a professional, sincere apology can go a long way toward keeping the relationship strong.

In the scenario above, this duo handled the apology in a way that provides an example for others. Let’s take a look at why it worked

They immediately acknowledged the need to apologize. There was no sidestepping the issue (they had broken the expected rhythm for the project) but they took responsibility for the delay.  (This wasn’t a case of, “I’m sorry someone/you were offended” which puts the responsibility on the other person.)

They articulated exactly what stress they caused. “We understand deadlines, and we’ve made this difficult for you.” This wasn’t just an off-the-cuff “Sorry this is late.” It took my feelings into consideration.

They provided what I needed.  In this case, they were able to not only apologize, but include the material I needed, which moved the project along. While that may not always be possible, it’s the ideal way to make amends. At the very least, giving a hard deadline for when the material would have been ready would have also been acceptable.

Apologies aren’t easy. We all want to think we are consummate pros who do all things right. But that is not realistic. You WILL have to apologize at some point. Don’t make things worse by not giving an apology well.  We have plenty of poor examples in popular culture.  Don’t be one of them.

*scenario has been changed to protect privacy

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Beth Beutler is the Executive Director of H.O.P.E. Unlimited, a small business offering collaborative virtual assistance and business soft skill education to Help Overwhelmed Professionals Excel. She has over 25 years experience in administrative assistance and office management, soft skills training, and writing.