How To Apologise Effectively At Work

Posted October 22, 2019, by Elesha

No doubt about it, apologising at work is awkward, but when you’ve really messed up, it has to be done. Whether you missed a deadline, or offended a co-worker, knowing how to apologise effectively at work can minimse the damage and get your professional relationships back on track. 

When Should You Apologise At Work?

Not all workplace hiccups require an elaborate apology.

We all make small mistakes, like running a couple of minutes late to an informal meeting, and a brief ‘I’m sorry about that!’ apology in the moment will suffice. 

Just like saying ‘Yes’ all the time, over apologising can hurt your professional image. Constantly apologising and starting sentences with “Sorry…” will give off a vibe of uncertainty and insecurity to your coworkers.

So, when is a more formal apology at work warranted? 

  • Not finishing a project on time
  • Delivering poor quality work that isn’t up to the standards required
  • Not being adequately prepared for a meeting or professional situation 
  • Speaking rudely / abruptly with a coworker
  • Providing incorrect or not enough information to a client or colleagues 
  • Being late (not just a minute or two) to an important meeting and inconveniencing your colleagues at the meeting

5 Steps To Apologise Effectively At Work

Don’t delay! Apologise quickly

Get it over with and apologise as soon as possible. Letting the issue fester will only make matters worse, owning up quickly means there may be more options available to resolve the problem. Not speaking up and hoping it will just go away runs the risk of compounding the negative outcome of your mistake.

Plus, apologising quickly means you won’t have the worry of making the apology looming over you too long! 

Take full responsibility and don’t focus on why you did what you did

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”― Benjamin Franklin

If you want to apologise effectively at work, taking full responsibility and dropping the excuses is the way to go. It might be awkward, but owning your mistake and not giving extensive reasons or excuses on why it happened will actually give you more credibility with your boss and team members.

How you apologise is a reflection of your character, so take the opportunity to face the issue head-on, not shirking responsibility, and gain respect.

Be sincere

Ah, the workplace sorry #notsorry apology.

The only thing worse than not apologising at all (when you really should) is giving a half-assed, insincere apology. People know when you don’t really mean you’re sorry and anything less than a truly sincere apology can do more harm than good. 

In situations where you don’t feel your actions were wrong, yet they have affected other people on your team, consider that their feelings are worth addressing in a genuine way. 

Remember, your body language speaks as loud (or louder!) than your words. Avoid ‘closed’ body language, like crossing your arms, and make sure you maintain eye contact while apologising. 

Be clear about what went wrong to your boss 

When delivering your workplace apology, do your best to make a clear statement about what the problem is. Try not to slip into a long story about what happened, going through every aspect of what led up to the error.

Keep it concise. You can kick off the discussion with something like-

“Here’s the issue – I did ABC, which has resulted in XYZ.” 

Sure, you can provide more context later but first, your boss or whoever you’re apologising to needs to know clearly what happened. 

Obviously, this won’t apply to every situation (for example, if you’re apologising to a colleague for offending them) but when where your action has resulted in unfavourable consequences for a project or assignment, you’ll want to start by explaining the issue clearly. 

You can then lead to your suggestions on what can be done, which brings us to the next point….

Outline a plan to correct the mistake 

What’s better than an apology? An apology with a plan!

To apologise effectively at work for an error you’ve made, suggest a plan of action that could help rectify the situation – or prevent it from happening again. 

Not getting bogged down in the ‘why’ it happened and focusing on how it can be resolved moves the situation forward. It will show your boss you haven’t wasted the opportunity to learn something important from your mistake and you’ll follow up with meaningful action. 

3 Examples Of How To Apologise Effectively At Work 

The situation: You’ve messed up and need help from your manager to resolve the issue

Maybe you decided to take the initiative on a project but your decision backfired and now the consequences are more complicated than you’d expected. It’s not a quick fix you can do yourself, you’ll need help from your manager to resolve the issue before it escalates further. 

You can try saying:

“I gave the ok for the project to move forward but I was missing some key information and now the result is XYZ. 

I’m really sorry I wasn’t more thorough with my research before I gave the project the green light. Here’s how I think we can resolve it……… but I’ll need your help in doing so. This situation has been a big learning experience and I assure you it won’t happen again. How do you think we can move forward?”

The situation: You’ve offended one of your team members during a tense conversation

You said something during a stressful meeting that has offended a colleague. Whether it just came out wrong, or, you got caught up in the moment and actually meant it, for the sake of a peaceful working relationship, you need to apologise. 

You could take this approach: 

“I’m really sorry, what I said earlier was offensive and I was unprofessional to speak to you like that. I really regret saying what I did and I’m sorry for any hurt I caused. I’m working on my behaviour in these high-pressure situations to maintain my professionalism.”

The situation: You dropped the ball and missed an important deadline 

You totally blanked and forgot a deadline or won’t have the work finished in time. 

Here’s one way you could apologise: 

“I’m sorry I missed the deadline yesterday (or won’t be able to submit the report on time). I understand it is important and I really dropped the ball here.

I’m currently working on this as a priority to complete this by XXX but I can provide you with some information right now to give an insight on the direction of the report/ ballpark figures / whatever might be helpful”

There you have it, our tips on how to apologise effectively at work. Follow them and make the best of your workplace mistake.

Do you feel like you’re dropping to S bomb left, right and centre? If you feel you’re apologising too much at work then check out our tips on why and how to stop apologising at work. 


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