We all make mistakes. No one is perfect and no one is immune from the occasional slip-up. So it’s possible that you’ve occasionally made a mistake at work and upset one of your coworkers. And when that happens, you naturally want to apologize.

But when you do apologize, you need to do it right. Because if you mess up and do it wrong, it’s not going to go over well. Instead of making your coworker feel better, you might make that person feel more angry, resentful, and defensive.

So here are four things that you shouldn’t do when apologizing to a coworker:

Provide no explanation

If you tell your coworker that you’re sorry without providing any kind of explanation for what happened, it might come across sounding dismissive. (You’re indicating that you’re sorry, but you’re not that sorry.) Here’s an example…

  • No explanation: “I’m sorry.” (Pause.) “Hey, is anyone watching that new Netflix series?”
  • Explanation: “I’m sorry. I was feeling stressed out that day and shouldn’t have reacted like I did.”

Providing a bit of an explanation for your behavior makes your apology sound more heartfelt and genuine.

Use the word “but”

Never apologize and then immediately follow up with the word “but.” For example, you shouldn’t say something like “I’m sorry I reacted the way that I did, but it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t ignored my ideas.” Using the word “but” negates your apology and makes it look like you’re trying to shift the blame onto someone or something else.

Avoid your coworker altogether

Apologizing is awkward and uncomfortable. But trying to avoid an angry coworker is even worse. So don’t even try it. Take a deep breath, go talk to your angry coworker, and admit your mistake. You’ll probably both feel better afterwards.

Fish for a compliment

If you go overboard with your apology, your coworker might start to think that you’re fishing for a compliment. For example, you shouldn’t say something like “I’m so sorry I reacted the way I did! I’m an awful person! I’m sure that no one wants to collaborate with me!” Your coworker might feel compelled to comfort you and compliment your work – and your coworker might resent you for it.


Wolfe, A. (n.d.) The 4 worst ways to apologize when you’ve messed up. The Muse. Retrieved from: https://www.themuse.com/advice/the-worst-ways-to-apologize-work