Apologizing | When and How to Do It—And Not Do It—At WorkRosie Chevalier Mar 28, 2022 10:00 AM Illustration by Marian Blair
Apologies in the workplace have become a real talking point, especially considering how few of us enjoy delivering them. Come to think of it…does anyone?
Apologies certainly have their place. Some people use them as an expression of empathy rather than wrongdoing. And sometimes, colleagues just need to hash things out before they can move on. Still, apologies can be both overused and underused, and even misused, to the detriment of work relationships.
However big or small the problem, there are some helpful factors to think about when you don’t know how to apologize—or not apologize—at work.
Sometimes you need to apologize
Some of us may avoid apologizing at all costs, while others say sorry so reflexively that it starts to lose meaning. You may have experienced the passive-aggressive non-apology, or the apology that’s weaponized to make everyone feel worse. Maybe you’ve even found yourself perpetuating some of these behaviors yourself (it’s okay, work is complicated).
Whatever camp you fall into, it’s probably safe to say that no one really likes apologizing. But sometimes it’s the right thing to do, and it can make life easier for everyone. If you’ve genuinely made a mistake or bad decision that has affected your colleagues, there’s no shame in saying you’re sorry. In fact, apologizing when you’ve messed up shows co-workers that you’re honest and take responsibility for your actions. Executed with some thought and finesse, an apology can increase your team’s confidence in and respect for you, and demonstrate that you learn from your mistakes.
How to do it
Keep these tips in mind if you’ve decided an apology is in order:
Sometimes you DON’T need to apologize
While apologizing can be the right thing to do, it isn’t always the right thing. You may be tempted to say you’re sorry to avoid conflict, or keep tensions from building. If you’re not at fault, though, beware the false apology.
Many experts warn that reflexive apologizers—many of them women—can undermine confidence in their abilities, both for others and themselves. Rapid-fire apologizing also doesn’t exactly scream “from the heart,” so try to apologize only when you mean it.
A few steps that can help:
Get past it
Whether you’ve apologized or decided not to, your focus should be on how best to move forward. You may still have to prove yourself again after apologizing, or just wait for others to get over it. All you can do is your best, with a solutions-focused attitude, and the understanding that everyone makes mistakes and no one stays mad forever. Or if they do? Consider that an important note about your organization’s culture.
***TEAMWORK PERSONAL WORKPLACE RELATIONSHIPS ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE Rosie Chevalier Mar 28, 2022 10:00 AM
Rosie Chevalier is a writer in Chicago who has written for Chicago Education Advocacy Cooperative, Points In Case, RobotButt, Reliving History, and more. She has worked with multiple theatre companies. volunteered across Chicago, and taught writing, acting, and improv to all ages. Her interests include dogs, the news, boats, holidays, and her family, and she's currently attempting to enjoy cooking.