how to apologize correctly
  • | October 5, 2016
Making a mistake at work is inevitable. Nobody is perfect and you’re bound to make a mistake from time to time. It’s important to handle the situation with as much professionalism and resect as possible and sometimes that can be a challenge, especially if we don’t think we did anything wrong.

The work apology is a tricky situation as you are almost always making it to your boss. Obviously a problem has occurred and making apologies can be a difficult task, but there’s a silver lining. When a mistake occurs at work and you are to blame, it is an opportunity to demonstrate how you handle adversity and setbacks. Knowing what to do is important, but knowing what not to do is equally important.


  • Take responsibility. If you’ve dropped the ball, own up to it. Even if you aren’t directly to blame but the responsibility falls to you, behave like a coach in sports: “it’s my responsibility, I take the blame.” You can earn credit for stepping up to the plate.

  • Offer a solution. Taking the blame is a good step, but bosses and managers will always react better if you can come to them with a solution to the problem as well. Managers don’t want excuses, they want solutions. There will be plenty of time to sort out specifics later.

  • Demonstrate your ability and willingness to act on the solution. Don’t offer to come in early tomorrow or work through the weekend, tell your boss you are going to do these things. As much as your boss wants a solution instead of an excuse, he also doesn’t want to have to stand over your shoulder and make sure it gets done.


  • Blame someone else. Nothing ruins an apology like “I’m sorry, but-.” Don’t do that. If there is someone else who legitimately deserves some blame for the situation, that can be addressed at an appropriate time and with the appropriate people. When it’s apology time, shoot straight and take ownership of your part in the situation.

  • Make excuses. I didn’t have the right email address, the printer was out of paper, I didn’t get the updated schedule, etc. All of these things might be true but still doesn’t excuse you if you’ve dropped the ball. Being a good worker means taking proactive steps when things don’t go according to plan. Find the right email address, get more paper for the printer, and ask for the updated schedule.

  • Deny. One of the most difficult things to do in all of human behavior is admit fault or a lack of knowledge. Denial is a powerful thing and many men use it as a default response. Denying responsibility or fault may work for a short while. You might even get away with it long-term, but someone knows the truth and it will come back to haunt you if and when you’re found out. Now instead of making an honest mistake, you’ve also lied on top of it.

Workplace apologies can be uncomfortable situations, especially when we fear our jobs might be on the line because of it. In the end, stepping up and taking responsibility when it falls on you is an important part of maturity and strong work ethic. Fess up.

Good luck.