How to Apologize for a Mistake Professionally: Tips to Try

Introduction

Do you know how to apologize for a mistake professionally? We’ve all been there. Despite our best efforts, mistakes still happen at the workplace.

What differentiates a professional employee from an inexperienced one is the kind of reaction they have when such mistakes happen.

The starting point to resolve a dispute professionally is by apologizing. An apology is proof that the wrongdoer is acknowledging his/her mistake and is ready to remedy the situation. Below is a guide for how to apologize for a mistake professionally.

Use Tact

The relevance of an apology varies from one professional setting to the next. Therefore, when learning how to apologize for a mistake professionally, be tactful with your apology.

The first thing you need to do is be remorseful. Accept your mistake and directly ask the person(s) you affected to pardon you.

Remorse sounds like this, “I am really sorry for…” It does not sound like this, “It’s unfortunate you feel bad about what happened.”

Remorse is always accompanied by taking responsibility. Work ethics require that one owns up to his or her mistake.

By saying, “I am sorry, I am missed the deadline,” an employee is able to show remorse and a sense of responsibility.

Remorse backed up by responsibility is seen as a show of sincerity in wanting to remedy the situation and move forward with the rest of the work team.

apologizing at work

If you find it hard to express remorse and responsibility due to a  fear that you will look inferior or unintelligent to your colleagues, prepare a script and use it to practice your words before the intended meeting.

People respect you for owning up to mistakes instead of remaining in denial or trying to blame others. There are many phrases and terms you can use to express remorse and show responsibility.

Find a Solution

Showing remorse and responsibility will get the attention of your colleagues, but it will not fix the problem. This is why you also have to show a desire to resolve the problem.

Promising to improve in an apology is a way of expressing that you have learned from the mistake and are willing to strive not to commit the same mistake in the future.

The real challenge for any good professional is to follow through on this improvement by ensuring you do not repeat the mistake.

Using phrases like, “This incident has taught me… I have come up with this plan to ensure I do not do this again.”

However, apologizing for a mistake that you repeated is much harder, that is, if your audience is even willing to listen to you for the second or third time.

How to Apologize for a Mistake Professionally

When apologizing, share your plan on how you are going to change your way of doing work in order to avoid the formation of negative habits. 

Clean Up Your Mess

Once you have done all you can to avoid the mistake in the future, next you need to find a solution and clean up the aftermath.

This involves trying as much as possible to remedy the current situation. Explore ways in which you can mitigate the damage caused.

It could be working longer shifts, personally visiting the key client, or offering freebies. Make it clear that you are doing all you can to rectify your mistake.

In summary, a professional apology should sound like this

I am sorry (Remorse), I did this (Responsibility). I have learned that…..and I will, therefore, do this…..to avoid such mistakes in the future (improvement). Here is my plan for mitigating the damage I’ve caused (cleaning up).

Mind Your Attitude and Tone

Apologizing is a humbling experience. Never let your ego overwhelm you. Always view the mistake you made from the other person’s perspective. Your apology should be focused on the other person and not you.

How to Apologize for a Mistake Professionally

Always give clear apologies using words such as “I am sorry.” Never let the other person guess as to whether your statement was an apology or not. 

If apologizing to a boss or manager, you may also want to read our article on how to treat your boss with respect.

When practicing how to apologize for a mistake professionally, one should never over-apologize. Over-explaining your actions may be seen like you’re giving excuses for these mistakes. Instead, show a level of understanding and a willingness to change.

Timing is Key

Choosing the appropriate time to apologize for a mistake will determine how your apology will be perceived.

If your mistake is affecting the flow of communication in the project you are currently undertaking, it is key to apologize immediately to your teammates.

However, if your apology may lead to some legal action, you are better off liaising with your legal adviser first.

A delayed apology is preferred in situations where the affected persons are reacting with too much emotion. By delaying, you give your colleagues a chance to calm down and reason rationally.

How to Apologize for a Mistake Professionally

Involving a third party when apologizing assists in showing that you have been thoughtful and are willing to resolve the conflict amicably.

A Statement of Apology

Most companies have policies that require you to make a detailed written apology alongside your verbal apology. Below is a format you can adapt to incorporate into what you have already delivered to your colleague/superiors: 

  • State clearly the reason you are writing the apology.
  • Explain your mistake clearly, occasionally referring to how you think it has or will affect your teammates or customers.
  • Point out clearly who you think is responsible for the mistake. Your blunder may be the result of a series of mishaps. By pointing this out, you allow for improvements in the business, therefore making this mistake a learning opportunity for the organization.
  • State clearly what you think you have learned from this whole incident.
  • List the actions you are taking to remedy and prevent this mistake from happening again.
  • Show how you are ready to face the consequences of your actions.
  • Make it clear that the statement of apology is final and you have no intentions of causing more harm.

Conclusion

Mastering how to apologize for a mistake professionally is a mark of emotional intelligence. In the quest for how to apologize for a mistake professionally, always draw the line between emotions and rationale. 

Try putting yourself in the other person’s situation and choose words that they will respond positively to.

You may also want to read this helpful article on apologizing to customers.

Remember, people view your apology first from your body language. Therefore, let your non-verbals support your tactful words.