How To Apologise at Work: Guided Steps and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 July 2021

If you make a mistake at work, it's important to offer a professional apology in a timely manner. While some actions warrant an in-person apology, other instances might be fine with an email apology. Understanding the importance of an apology and knowing how to apologise shows you're truly remorseful and can even help improve future communication. In this article, we explain why it's important to apologise, list the three parts of an apology, explain how to apologise in the workplace and offer professional examples.

Related: Email Etiquette: The Professional Business Email Format

Why is it important to apologise?

At work, you may find yourself in a situation that requires you to apologise to someone else. For example, you may feel the need to apologise if you're late for work, miss an important deadline or display uncharacteristic behaviour. Here are some reasons why it's important to apologise:

  • Acknowledge your actions: An apology not only shows you understand your part in the situation, but it also shows that you acknowledge how your actions may have affected the other party.

  • Rebuild trust: While certain actions can break trust among coworkers, an apology may help improve the situation and help the other party trust you again. When colleagues trust each other, they're usually more productive, creative, team-orientated and collaborative.

  • May decrease workplace stress: Apologising may ease any negative feelings created when you made a mistake in the workplace. It can also ease conflict and ensure a productive work environment in the future.

  • Improve communication: When you apologise to your coworkers, you may improve your future communication and interactions with them. After an apology, all parties can better understand each other and be more open to communicating about other issues in the future.

Related: 10 Effective Communication Skills for Career Success

What is a good way to apologise?

When you make a mistake in the workplace, you can apologise in a variety of ways. Here are two good ways to apologise professionally:

  • In person: If you made a big mistake at work, it may warrant an in-person apology. When you make a large error, not only is this method often more appropriate, but it may also result in a better resolution.

  • Email: An email apology may suffice for a small workplace error. Though it's less personal than an in-person apology, you can put your computer skills to good use with an email apology that expresses your remorse.

Related: Computer Skills: Definitions and Examples

What are the three parts of an apology?

A sincere apology needs to include the right components. Following a certain structure gives you a greater chance of the other party accepting your apology. Here are the three parts of a professional apology:

  • Acknowledgement: Expressing that you know how your actions affected someone else can help you make a more sincere apology. For example, you can acknowledge your actions by specifically saying what you did that warranted the apology.

  • Remorse and empathy: It's important for an apology to highlight how bad you feel for what you did. Along with expressing remorse, you also need to consider how the other person feels and express these sentiments in your apology.

  • Restitution: Near the end of your apology, you need to take action in order to make up for the transgression. For example, you can offer to listen better in the future or offer to do extra work to make up for your mistake.

How to apologise for a mistake at work

If you made a mistake at work, knowing how to apologise can help you express your remorse with greater sincerity. Since you work alongside these people almost every day, it's important to take every step toward rectifying your actions. Use these steps to apologise for a mistake in the workplace:

1. Assess the situation

For many incidents, it's important to apologise to the other party right after the incident. This lets them know how much you regret your actions and how you hope to have a positive relationship with them in the future. However, some situations may warrant a little time before you offer an apology. Assess the situation and determine whether the opposing party might prefer the space to process what happened or if it's best to apologise right away.

2. Determine how you plan to apologise

Consider what you're apologising for and determine if it's best to apologise in person or via email. While larger incidents may warrant an in-person apology, a simple email apology may suffice for smaller transgressions.

3. Mention the recipient's name

When you write your apology, address the person by their name. This shows that you're genuine about your apology and that you're considering how your actions affected them personally.

4. Express your sincerity

Every apology you offer needs to show your complete sincerity. A sincere apology can help improve your future working relationship with the other party. While an email or an in-person apology may suffice, the latter may make it easier to express your remorse. When you meet and apologise in person, it can help you better understand the other party and vice versa. Sometimes, you may find that you didn't need to apologise after all.

5. Validate their feelings

Regardless of the exact situation, consider how the other party feels and how your actions may have affected them. Acknowledging their feelings can help you offer a more sincere apology.

6. Acknowledge your actions

Along with validating their feelings, acknowledge your part in the situation. Take responsibility for your actions and make sure the other party is aware of your remorse. Before you attempt to explain your actions, consider whether doing so may improve your relationship with the other party or if it may help avoid similar occurrences in the future.

7. Explain how you plan to correct your mistake

At the end of your apology, explain how you plan to rectify the situation. Letting them know you have a plan for how to correct your mistake shows the other party that you genuinely care about making things right. Offer a realistic promise.

Examples of a professional apology

If you need to apologise professionally, consider these examples:

Example of an in-person apology

If your actions in the workplace cause a harmful effect, consider an in-person apology. Here's an example of a professional, in-person apology to help guide the planning of your own:

"Hi, John. I wanted to stop by your desk to apologise for my behaviour yesterday. I mistakenly allowed my personal frustrations from outside of work to affect how I approached others. It was unacceptable behaviour that I'm sincerely sorry for doing. I appreciate and respect you as a colleague and want to continue to have a good working relationship. I know my actions set the tone for the meeting and hurt your feelings.

I promise this won't happen again because I'm immediately creating a positive work-life balance to make sure of it. I hope you accept my apology and that you're able to continue to trust me as your coworker. Is there anything additional I can do to make it up to you?"

Example of a work apology email

For smaller transgressions or when you're unable to meet someone in person, consider sending an apology via email. Here's an example of a work apology email that you can use as a reference:

Subject: My apology

Dear John,

I'm sending this email because I want to apologise to you for missing my deadline on our joint project. I understand how it's frustrating and I take full responsibility for the project being turned in late. I also let Mr Tam know that it's my fault we went past our due date, as I know you couldn't complete your work until I did mine.

Please know that I'm committed to preventing this from happening again. I promise to take my responsibilities seriously and aim to complete my part of our future projects before the due date. If I'm struggling with any expectations, including the due date, I promise to address it with you and Mr Tam as soon as possible so we can make the necessary adjustments before it becomes an issue.

I value you as a teammate and hope we can move past this incident. I'm open to any feedback you may have for me.

Michelle Chan

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