We all make mistakes. Whether it’s missing a meeting or forgetting a deadline, it happens to the best of us. But how we act after making a mistake is what is important. 

Rather than blaming somebody or something else, it is important to be honest and explain why you made this mistake. At the end of the day, we are all humans and mistakes are what help us grow! 

“It is much better to accept mistakes, learn from them, and move on. ‘Look forward and base decisions on the future not the past’”

Amy Gallo

Why is it important to apologize when you made a mistake at work?

According to Amy Gallo, mistakes are an essential part of learning, “most contribute to organizational and personal learning; they are an essential part of experimentation and a prerequisite for innovation.”

However, even though mistakes happen and help us grow, we need to be able to apologize for them. But what can happen if we don’t apologize? 

If you don’t apologize for your mistakes and go about your day as if nothing happened, you are bound for negative consequences. Some of these consequences include:

  • Bad work relationships
  • Lack of trust
  • Career limitations
  • Bad impressions 
  • Bad teamwork

Therefore, it is important to apologize for your mistakes to facilitate trust and build good relationships with your team members, ensure that you are not limiting your career opportunities, and create good impressions.

6 Tips to apologize like a professional

According to a study published in Negotiation and Conflict Management, 6 things make up an effective apology:

1 Express regret

Expressing regret for your mistake will ensure that whoever you’re apologizing to knows that you messed up. This will also show accountability for your actions.

“Rather than insist it wasn’t your fault, or say something like, “You don’t understand,” show regret for your mistake.”

Amy Morin, psychologist and author

2 Explain what went wrong

We all have bad days and being honest with ourselves and the other person with why this mistake happened is important. This is because making up excuses will sound inauthentic and disingenuous. For example, if you missed a deadline because you were overwhelmed with work, tell your co-worker or boss this so that they can help you out.

3 Take responsibility

Although we may instinctively want to make excuses to justify why we made a mistake, it is important to be mature and take responsibility. For example, if you miss a deadline say something like “I realize that I made a mistake and missed the deadline, it was completely on me”. 

4 Declare repentance

According to Amy Morin, acknowledging that you’re sorry for what went wrong will let the other person know that you care that you made a mistake. 

“You don’t want to sound unemotional when you talk about your mistake. Otherwise, you’ll come across as a bit uncaring—or even callous”

– Amy Morin

5 Offer repair

Rather than just apologizing and going about your life as if nothing happened, see what you can do to repair the situation. For example, if you missed a deadline, you could reprioritize your tasks to get it finished. Or, if you missed a meeting, you could take the initiative to reschedule the meeting ASAP. 

Pro tip

Use a meeting management tool like Fellow to stay on top of your meetings, tasks, and deadlines by assigning action items so you never miss a due date or meeting again!

Meeting Action Items App

6 Request forgiveness

Asking for forgiveness will show the other person that you want to make it up to them and prove that you won’t make this mistake again. Morin suggests saying words like “I will show you that I can do better next time” rather than “please forgive me”, as this shows the person that you are going to do better and not make the same mistake again. 

Examples of professional apologies

Allow us to show you some examples of how to professionally apologize at work…

How to apologize for being late for a meeting

The saying “don’t blame the economy, change your ways” by Amy Gallo is a great example of this situation. If you are late for a meeting because traffic was bad or you missed your bus, don’t blame the traffic or the bus for your mistake. 

Rather, say something like:

“I’m so sorry I am late; it was completely my fault for missing my bus and I will make sure this doesn’t happen again”.

“I’m so sorry I am late; I should have left my house earlier to get ahead of traffic. I will make sure to be on time for the next meeting”. 

These examples acknowledge that you messed up, ensured that you took responsibility for your mistake, and showed that you will not make this mistake again.

How to apologize for missing a deadline

From time to time we’ve all felt overwhelmed with work, resulting in us completely forgetting a deadline. So, it is important to learn how to professionally apologize for these mistakes.

Rather than saying “I was too busy and forgot”, say something like:

“I’m so sorry that I missed this deadline. I am overwhelmed with the amount of work that I have which resulted in me forgetting, I will make sure to prioritize better next time.”

In this example, you acknowledged that you were sorry, explained why this mistake occurred, and you offered to repair the mistake. Explaining to your boss and/or colleagues that you are overwhelmed with work will also let them know that you could use some help.  

How to apologize for losing your temper

Sometimes when our bandwidth is stretched to its max and we are challenged, we break down and lose our temper. And although it is not appropriate to do so, it still happens to the best of us. 

So, don’t dwell on your behaviour and rather apologize so that everyone can move forward. 

Say something like:

“I’m so sorry that I lost my temper. I am embarrassed for my behaviour, and I will make sure that I never act like this again”.

“I’m so sorry that I lost my temper. I have a lot going on right now, but that is no excuse, and I am embarrassed for how I acted. This will never happen again”.

These examples ensure that the person knows that you are sorry, explains that you are remorseful and embarrassed by your actions, and show that you will never make this mistake again. 

How to accept an apology

Now that you know how to apologize, it’s important to know how to accept an apology. First things first, put yourself in their shoes. Understand that we are all human and that we all make mistakes, even ourselves. 

Secondly, if you see they are struggling with their workload or just having a bad day, give them the benefit of the doubt. However, if the mistake turns out to be a regular occurrence, then you need to do something about it. 

Thirdly, assess the apology. See if they sound sincere and remorseful, and if they do, then accept their apology,

Finally, reassure them that it is okay and that you accept their apology. The last thing that you want is for them to be stressed that you are upset with them. 

Parting advice

Apologizing can be awkward but in every situation is the right thing to do. If your apology encompasses the 6 steps above, rest assured that your apology takes every precaution to mitigate your mistake and show your remorse. 

At the end of the day, whether you are apologizing or being apologized to, it is important to remember that we are all human and we all make mistakes.