Apologies in the workplace have become a real talking point, especially considering how few of us enjoy delivering them. Come to think of it…does anyone?
Apologies certainly have their place. Some people use them as an expression of empathy rather than wrongdoing. And sometimes, colleagues just need to hash things out before they can move on. Still, apologies can be both overused and underused, and even misused, to the detriment of work relationships.
However big or small the problem, there are some helpful factors to think about when it comes to apologies in the workplace. Maybe you don’t know how or when to apologize—or not apologize—at work.
When You Need To Apologize
Some of us may avoid apologizing at all costs, while others say sorry so reflexively that it starts to lose meaning. You may have experienced the passive-aggressive non-apology, or the apology that’s weaponized to make everyone feel worse. Maybe you’ve even found yourself perpetuating some of these behaviors yourself.
Whatever camp you fall into, it’s probably safe to say that no one really likes apologizing. But sometimes it’s the right thing to do, and it can make life easier for everyone. If you’ve genuinely made a mistake or bad decision that has affected your colleagues, there’s no shame in saying you’re sorry. In fact, apologies in the workplace when you’ve messed up shows co-workers that you’re honest and take responsibility for your actions. Executed with some thought and finesse, an apology can increase your team’s confidence in and respect for you, and demonstrate that you learn from your mistakes.
How To Apologize At Work
Keep these tips in mind if you’ve decided an apology is in order:
Be authentic. An insincere apology is rarely effective, and can even make things worse. Approach your apology as an opportunity to set the stage for a better relationship with the recipient. At its core, a true apology should be about humility and empathy, so focus on how you’ve impacted the other person.
Don’t qualify it. The word “if” doesn’t belong in a good apology, nor does the passive voice. You probably (hopefully) know that something like “I’m sorry if my words caused you to feel offended” isn’t a real apology. Don’t deflate your apology with words that protect you rather than acknowledge their concerns. Be willing to accept responsibility, or don’t bother.
Remember that you can only control your end of the apology. It may not be accepted graciously, or at all. It may not even be acknowledged. All you can do is move forward with the insights you’ve learned, and the confidence that you’ve accepted your part in what happened.
When Apologies In The Workplace AREN’T Needed
While apologizing can be the right thing to do, it isn’t always the right thing. You may be tempted to say you’re sorry to avoid conflict, or keep tensions from building. If you’re not at fault, though, beware the false apology.