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How to Apologize at Work for a Mistake

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

Apologizing at work can take a lot of guts and humility but is also a sign of professionalism and maturity that can be a very positive sign of good leadership. Knowing how to apologize at work isn’t easy but doing it right is a skill that every project manager (and professional in general) needs to be able to master.

Whether it was a mistake, an overestimation, sharp words in a meeting or even a personal insult, owning up to your responsibility to make things better and effectively communicating your contrition over creating the situation can take a lot of work to get right. If you’re looking for the best approaches to apologizing at work here are some tips you can follow.

  1. Mean what you are saying

There’s a big difference between having to apologize and actually wanting to apologize. We all know how kids react when forced to say an unfelt “Sooorrryy” with accompanying rolled eyes. Adults might be slightly less obvious but not only is it likely that others will know when you are not sincere, you also won’t be able to move on from the incident on a personal level unless you genuinely feel sorry.

  1. Don’t try to deflect responsibility

Owning up to something you’ve done can be tough, not just for the inherent awkwardness but also as you are admitting that you are not actually 100% perfect. It is quite common therefore to use phrases like “I’m sorry but you kind of brought it on yourself by doing x, y or z”, which lessen the amount of blame you are taking on your shoulders. However, all this serves to do is prolong the situation without resolving it as the other won’t feel that they got a full apology.

  1. Show them that you empathize

Validating the feelings of others is one of the most important elements of an effective apology. It is important to let them know that you understand what happened, what you did wrong and that they are right to feel aggrieved. If you want to know how to apologize at work properly, then sincerely use phrases such as “I understand why that made you feel excluded” or “You are right to be disappointed” to display how you empathize with their position.

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  1. Explain your action, but not as an excuse

While you should own up to your actions (or inactions as they may have been), it can also assist the reconciliation process to give the other an idea of why you did what you did. For example, if you made a decision without the input of a responsible team member which made them feel undermined you could explain to them your reasoning, by saying “I understand why you are annoyed but, in that moment, I felt that speed was more important than accuracy, so took the decision without waiting for your response.”

  1. Offer to make it up to the other

Apologizing is one thing, but studies have shown that the road to forgiveness is greatly shortened by offering to make amends for your mistake. Suggesting ways that you will improve behavior in the future or, depending on the seriousness of the situation, enquiring if there is some way of making it up to them can make apologizing at work a lot more effective.

  1. Reflect on the lessons learned

Nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes, you should only get worried if you keep making the same mistake over and over. A good way to prevent this is to think about how the situation happened and what could have been done to prevent it. This can all be part of the process of apologizing at work and also becomes a means of encouraging yourself to take responsibility where necessary, as you know it will make you wiser in the end.

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork