Mistakes happen. Who hasn’t messed up at work at some point or the other?

You can be defensive about a misstep or you can make amends with a simple “I’m sorry”.

An apology is the best way of dealing with a mistake at work and moving on.

Before discussing the best way to apologize, let’s look at situations that involve a professional mistake. And why an apology is usually due.

Some cases are simple: you need to know how to say sorry for everyday mistakes such as leaving a coffee cup on your desk or being under-prepared for a meeting.

However, mistakes that affect your position or your organization can lead to more severe consequences. Falling short on committed deliveries or ignoring policy guidelines can affect the company’s bottom line.

Before you learn how to apologize, it is crucial to acknowledge that you are either wholly or partly responsible for a mistake. Apologizing at your workplace is useful only with complete self-acknowledgment of the mistake. Anything less can make the apology visibly self-defeating, especially if your role in such situations is apparent to others.

The Fine Balance Of How To Apologize

The extent and depth of the ways in how to apologize can vary. Though apologies are essential to mitigate a situation, you don’t need to apologize elaborately for every small mistake.

If you give an elaborate apology for every minor transgression, colleagues might consider you weak and insecure. But not knowing how to say sorry is also damaging

So, if it were you that left behind your coffee mug, a simple sorry would more than suffice. Nobody wants a long explanation about how absent-minded you’ve become and how even at home you are like that.

The Pitfalls Of Being Over Apologetic

Excessive apologizing generally stems from an aversion to conflict. It’s an easier way of dealing with a problem and making peace.

Let’s look at the example of Revati, who joined a textile manufacturing unit as an assistant to the general manager. Her boss was an ambitious achiever, respected across the company for her integrity and work ethic. Revati began putting pressure on herself to be perfect at her work and developed a habit of being profusely apologetic to the GM even for the smallest, and, often assumed, transgression.

Initially, the GM waved her away with a smile. But when Revati began apologizing on behalf of team members as well, the infuriated GM gave her a quick lesson in reining in her apologetic persona and taught the best ways to apologize. The GM  explained to her how to exhibit strength and be assertive instead of owning up to others’ shortcomings. Revati took no time to pick up the lessons and successfully served the GM for a long time.

Not Apologizing Is Also Wrong

However, for every example of over apologetic people, there are always examples in any organization of people being wholly unapologetic and brash. Being unapologetic for your mistakes can hurt your career prospects.

It is essential to know how to strike a balance between over-apologizing and not apologizing at all. If you don’t know how to apologize correctly and sincerely, you can make things worse for yourself. Effective apologies are simple if you handle them well and learn how to say sorry.

When You Are In The Wrong

When you’ve made a mistake or upset another person, you should know how to apologize for a mistake professionally for many reasons. By apologizing, you and your colleague can put an uneasy situation behind and continue a healthy relationship.

  • An apology gives you the chance to openly acknowledge that you were wrong

  • It opens up an opportunity to discuss what is allowed and what is not in your relationship

  • You get to learn from mistakes and find new ways of dealing with difficult situations

  • It keeps the lines of communication open with the other person

Knowing when to apologize is as essential as knowing how to apologize and how to say sorry. Generally, if you suspect that it was something you did, knowingly or unknowingly, that has hurt someone’s feelings, it is a good idea to apologize and clear the air.

The Difficulty Of An Apology

While knowing how to apologize for a mistake professionally can go a long way towards mending a relationship, people are often reluctant to take this step readily. For most of us, admitting that we were wrong can be a challenging thing to do. Mostly if the other person happens to be someone we are not too fond of.

But we must always remember that refusing to apologize when we are clearly in the wrong can be damaging to our personal and professional relationships. It can lead to long-drawn unpleasantness, resentment and hostility that can only grow over time.

If you cannot face the person, you could learn how to apologize professionally in an email. Knowing how to apologize professionally in an email can come in handy in several situations at the workplace. When you know how to apologize professionally in an email, do not digress by shifting the blame to others or circumstances.

Then there are times when people refuse to apologize, not because they don’t know how to say sorry, but because they are not concerned about the other person. The very act of apologizing seems to somehow threaten their self-worth and self-esteem. They tend to justify their refusal to apologize with the belief that an apology won’t do them good anyway.

Knowing how to apologize for a mistake professionally can also bring relief, particularly if you harbor guilt over your actions. It may be that in certain situations, just knowing how to say sorry doesn’t erase the hurt and make things alright. But it does establish that you are willing to accept that your actions or words were wrong and that you will strive harder in the future to prevent it from happening again.

How To Apologize For A Mistake Professionally

If you believe that a person can see that you genuinely meant no harm, it is easier to extend a hand of peace. You will also accept that change is possible and that taking the blame for your mistake is just another opportunity for learning and growth.

  1. Take Full Responsibility

Taking responsibility means acknowledging your mistakes. As simple as it may sound, it is one of the most demanding stages in learning how to apologize and say sorry. It is also one of the most critical and neglected steps of tendering an apology at the workplace.

Just blurting out something vague does not mean you know how to say sorry. When you know how to apologize, you will acknowledge that you did hurt the other person and take responsibility for it.

  1. Express A Clear Sense Of Regret

When you apologize with honesty, you show that you have understood the value of expressing regret. Your apology goes a long way when the other person knows that you feel bad about hurting them, and wish you hadn’t. It will add to your apology’s sincerity and let the other person know that it is genuine.

  1. Strive To Make Amends

It is essential to know how to apologize with sincerity. If there is anything you can do to amend a situation, then offer to do it. The gravity of an apology comes through clearly where there is a willingness to make amends. If you’ve fallen short on a promise, explore all the other ways you can set it right. If you broke someone’s trust, see what you can do to rebuild it.

  1. Always Apologize For The Right Reasons

When we apologize, we can maintain our integrity and forgive ourselves. On the other hand, if we are expecting an apology back, it can be a manipulative tactic that can go wrong. Apologize for your peace of mind and the other person may be inspired to do the same.


Though apologies are not always easy, they are essential to maintain relationships. When there is adequate empathy, openness and courage, you can take the steps you need to make a sincere and honest apology. If you want to learn the best way to apologize, there are several ways to do that.

Harappa Education offers an excellent online course, Establishing Trust. Trust is the glue that holds teams together and motivates people to deliver their best. This collaborative teamwork course will give you the tools to build and maintain trusting relationships by focusing on credibility and openness.

The online course has a section on the concept of the Three Pillars of Trust that takes you through the steps to rebuild trust with authenticity and empathy. Sign up to learn about building trust at work.

Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about the topic related to the Collaborate habit such as Building Relationships, Conflict Management, Negotiation, Strategic Management & Peer Pressure in order to develop your collaboration skills.

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