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  • Samantha Morrell

Workplace Apologies

No matter how perfect your job is, how well you get along with your coworkers or how awesome your boss is, conflict is bound to happen in the work place. We're only human.


And when conflict arises, there often needs to be some apologizing taking place. Apologizing can be hard, but a painful apology is always better than letting things fester until it becomes something bigger.


Last month we discussed the Six Essential Elements of an Effective Apology that Lauren Bloom highlights in her book Art of the Apology. They are:

  • Say you’re sorry, sincerely

  • Take responsibility

  • Make amends

  • Express appreciation

  • Listen

  • Do better next time

How we use these elements in the workplace will depend on who we are apologizing to. That’s because how we apologize to peers will look a little different than how we apologize to superiors or subordinates.


Bloom suggests there’s two things to remember when you begin to plan out an apology to a work peer:

  • Keep it simple. While it may feel like you need to make a big dramatic affair of apologizing in the work place, it’s better to stay on point. Spending too much time focused on minute details of what went wrong is an easy way to make the apology about you when it should be about them.

  • Prepare for politics. No office is completely without politics, and sometimes a person may use what happened as a way to gain leverage. If you suspect this will happen, it’s easiest to go to a superior and explain what happened before making an apology.

Let’s say you get in a conflict with your superior and need to make an apology. It’s good to remember the six elements above, but with your superiors, Art of the Apology suggests some additional helpful tips when apologizing:

  • Use deference. It’s good to always show respect towards your higher ups, but it’s especially important when expressing regret towards what happened.

  • Don’t interrupt. One of the easiest ways to show disrespect is to interrupt. It shows you value your voice over theirs. This means biting your tongue.

  • Tell the whole truth. There’s no point in trying to cover up what happened. Odds are, if you get away with telling half the truth now, the whole truth will come out later.

  • Offer a solution. By offering a solution to what happened, you can show your superior that you truly regret what happened. They may even respect you more after.

  • Repeat your story as necessary. If your mistake was big enough, it may end up involving more than just you and your superior. You may end up having to talk to your boss or even your company’s PR department about what happened. If you have a team, you might need to share the story here too.

As someone’s boss, it can be hard to apologize to someone below you. However, it will improve your skills as a manager, and it will set an example to your employees. Bloom suggests there are four things that all higher-ranking employees should consider before apologizing to someone below them:

  • Swallow your pride. It may be hard to show your regret to someone you manage but a big ego can make your apology feel fake. Remember to check it at the door.

  • Make kindness key. Just because you’re in charge of a department doesn’t mean you get to show less respect to those working in it. Kindness to your employees goes a long way.

  • Don’t apologize in private if you erred in public. While your apology should be directed towards the person you wronged, all mistakes made around others should be apologized the same way. If someone didn’t see your apology, their opinion of you can be negatively affected.

Making an apology is never easy but adding the stress of a workplace can turn a simple mistake into something much bigger. Next time you make a blunder, use these tips to help ease the tension and improve company relations.


If something from this two-part series spoke to you, please let us know!

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