Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. So I’m sure that at some point during your career, you made a mistake and upset one of your coworkers. And afterwards, you probably apologized.

But did you apologize in the correct way? A couple years ago, I wrote an article about the wrong ways to apologize. The worst offenders include the following:

  • Saying “I’m sorry” in a flippant, insincere way, and providing no explanation for your mistake
  • Following up your apology with a “but” (“I’m sorry I said that, but you shouldn’t have forgotten to bring the coffee to the meeting.”)
  • Going overboard with your apology in an effort to fish for a compliment from your coworker

Apologizing incorrectly usually won’t make the other person feel better. Instead, it will often have the opposite effect. You’ll probably make the person feel more angry, resentful, and defensive.

So how should you apologize? Author Brian de Haaff suggests that you follow five steps:

  1. Think before you apologize – Before you say anything to the person that you upset, take a little time to think about how your mistake affected that person, and how he or she is probably feeling. If you try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, it will help you to be more sincere and authentic in your apology.
  2. Say the words “I am sorry” – Don’t try to gloss over your mistake by avoiding these words. And don’t say the dreaded “I am sorry, BUT…” Just say you’re sorry.
  3. Be specific – Provide details about what you’re apologizing for, and try to be open and honest. You could say something like, “I’m sorry that I snapped at you during the team meeting. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. But that’s no excuse. It was really uncalled for and I shouldn’t have done it.”
  4. Be empathetic – Acknowledge the fact that your actions hurt your coworker. Say something like, “I realize that I probably upset and embarrassed you. I know I wouldn’t want to be treated that way.”
  5. Ask for forgiveness – Finally, ask your coworker to forgive you. And tell your coworker that it’s OK if they’d like to take a little time to think about it. Sometimes, after an upsetting event, people need a little time and space before they can forgive and move on.

de Haaff, B. (2017, August, 1). 5 ways to say “sorry” to a co-worker. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/5-ways-to-say-sorry-to-a-co-worker_b_59808299e4b0cb4fc1c73c31

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