How to Apologize When You’ve Offended Someone

In the stress and strain of work, most employees will at some point say or do something we regret.  An employee will say the wrong thing.  A manager may unthinkingly betray a confidence.  The good news is that there are often simple things a manager or coworker can do to repair the relationship.  The first – and often the most effective – is an apology.

How to Apologize and Mean It

  • Make it genuine. – Anyone can spot a backhanded apology and it will do more harm than good. For example, “If I offended you, I apologize” is a fake apology: It’s like stealing someone’s wallet, and saying, “I’m sorry if you felt you were inconvenienced.” A genuine apology is aimed solely at taking responsibility, not implying that the other person is somehow at fault.
  • Know what you’re apologizing for. ‘I’m sorry’ means absolutely nothing if you don’t know what you are apologizing for. If you don’t already know, ask the person.  There’s a huge difference between saying, “I’m sorry” and “I’m sorry I made fun of your new haircut. It was insensitive of me, and I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
    Don’t make excuses – Excuses push the blame onto someone or something else, and it weakens the apology. Sure, a brief explanation may help understanding, but if you are busy explaining why you did what you did, it will start to sound like you aren’t apologizing at all.
  • Back what you say with what you do –An apology is an admittance of wrong-doing, not a free pass to do it again.  In fact, if you can’t commit to changing the action or words you’re apologizing for, don’t apologize.  “Sorry I kept you waiting so long” will be a hollow and ineffective apology if you keep doing it.  You’re better off thanking the other person, “Thanks for your patience. I appreciate it” and taking it from there.
  • Apologize for them, not for you. – The mistake many people make when apologizing is that they expect forgiveness.  This is not about you; it’s about the person you hurt.  Some people will behave indifferently, some will behave coldly, and some will react in a downright hostile way. You can’t get angry or defensive. If the person declines your apology, you have to let it go and realize it’s their prerogative. If you apologized sincerely, you have done all you can do.

Many managers and employees have the genuine fear that they will say something completely innocuous and the next think they know they will be met at the office with notification of a lawsuit against them. My response is always the same.  The best defense is a good offense.  If an employee or manager has built a work relationship build on accountability, trust and respect, the odds that s/he will cross the line with someone is minimal.  And, more importantly, if s/he does, the other person will believe the other person’s explanation because of the positive history they’ve shared.

Remember; apologies don’t change the past.  But, when given with sincerity, they can enlarge the future.

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2 Comments on “How to Apologize When You’ve Offended Someone”

  1. gameli Says:

    good advice

  2. Rihannah Says:

    thanx good advice but what if the person is ignoring you compleatly like you dont exist for 5 days over a 5 min arguement and they are ignoring you sooooooooo much they wont tell you whats wrong

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