How To Apologise For A Mistake At Work

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Miscommunications and errors are common occurrences in any workplace. It may be necessary to apologise for a mistake or conduct on occasion in order to retain a solid working relationship. Learning how to apologise professionally can demonstrate your recognition of a problem and your efforts to resolve it.

In this post, we explain why apologising at work is necessary and what can happen if you don’t, how to apologise professionally for a mistake, and provide some tips and examples of email and in-person apologies.

Why is it Important to Apologise?

There may be instances at work where you should apologise. You may have been late for work, missed a crucial deadline, or shown unusual behaviour. There are various reasons why you should apologise for your behaviour. An apology can be used to:

#1. Demonstrate that you are aware of your behaviour.

In addition to demonstrating that you recognise your role in a situation, you also understand how your actions may have affected the people with whom you work. For example, apologising for being late to work acknowledges that you were late, but it also shows your coworkers that you understand how working late can have a direct impact on the projects you’re working on together.

#2. Help reestablish trust

Certain behaviours can undermine trust among coworkers, but your apologies can assist in improving the situation and help your peers trust you again. When coworkers trust one other, they are usually more productive, creative, team-orientated and collaborative, which helps improve the overall workplace.

#3. Decrease workplace stress

If knowing that you’ve upset someone else has given you tension, then apologies may soothe any unpleasant feelings. Apologising may make you feel more confident in your ability to maintain your professional relationship as it was prior to the incident, especially if your colleague or manager accepts your honest apologies. It can help to reduce conflict and maintain a productive work atmosphere.

#4. Enhance communication

Communication is likely to improve when you can apologise to others at work. All parties can get a better understanding of one another and be more open to discussing future difficulties.

Should You Apologize for a Work Mistake by Email or in Person? 

One aspect of drafting the perfect apology is deciding how you’ll offer it. In most circumstances, it is best to apologise in person. Set up a meeting with your supervisor or affected coworkers, or request a conversation with a client or customer. Consider scheduling a call or a Zoom meeting to apologise if you operate remotely.

It is advisable to make in-person apologies in private. Avoid doing it in front of the entire office, which will simply make matters awkward and will deny the recipient the opportunity to express their thoughts if they so desire.

Saying sorry to their face may be awkward, but it will appear more genuine. They’ll be able to see your facial expressions and hear your tone of voice, and they’ll be able to respond quickly with their reaction — which will most likely be good because you took the time to apologise in person! You usually don’t need to set up a face-to-face meeting to apologise for minor mistakes, such as being slightly late one day or having to reschedule a meeting. In some circumstances, an email is probably preferable.

How to Apologize for a Mistake at Work 

Let’s start with some advice on how to write the perfect apology.

#1. Express Your Apology

Saying “I’m sorry” is difficult. It may appear that you are admitting to doing something on purpose or that you are underperforming in some way. However, admitting you’re sorry is an important element of your apology.

You don’t want to come out as blaming others or avoiding responsibility. Begin your apology with the most critical part: the apology itself.

Even if you do say “I’m sorry,” avoid the following phrases:

  • I’m sorry if I upset you. 
  • I’m sorry, but it wasn’t my fault. 
  • I’m sorry, but I didn’t mean it.

Deliver a genuine apology and avoid shifting blame. Instead, try these phrases:

  • I’m sorry I upset you. That was never my intention, but I can see how my message came across that way. 
  • I’m sorry I missed the deadline.
  • I want to apologize for the mix-up this morning. 

#2. Admit What Happened

Don’t just say you’re sorry and walk away. Explain what you’re sorry for and what went wrong, if applicable. However, avoid blaming too many external variables. You still wish to accept responsibility for your error.

However, by admitting what happened, you demonstrate that you are not simply apologising and hoping it will all go away soon – you are accepting your role in the mistake.

So, instead of saying “I’m sorry,” say “I’m sorry for…” or “I’d like to apologise for…”

As an example:

  • I’m sorry for my behaviour earlier. I was out of line to snap at you like that in the meeting. 
  • I’m sorry for missing the deadline for the sales report. 
  • I want to apologize for getting the budget figures mixed up. 

#3. Say How You’ll Fix it Or What You’ll Do Next Time

You must demonstrate that you have learned from your error and will do all possible to prevent it from happening again.

Also, be specific here. If you missed a deadline because you didn’t realise it was so near, explain how you’ll start incorporating a buffer into your process and completing reports a few days earlier from now on.

If you yelled at a coworker during a tough meeting, explain that you’ll be working on anger management and talking to your manager about reducing your workload to better manage your stress levels.

If it’s a situation that can be remedied, consider ways to make it right and include them in your apology. This could include contacting an outside client, amending a report, or rescheduling a meeting.

#4. Keep it brief.

Apologies do not have to be lengthy. Your boss, coworkers, or clients don’t have time to read a lengthy email or talk on the phone for 20 minutes while you go over every detail of your error.

You don’t want to spend too much time apologising, especially if you need to get back to addressing what went wrong.

But there is a delicate balance to be struck here. If your apology is too brief, it will not appear genuine.

A few sentences should suffice if you’re sending an apology email. Your apology should only take a few minutes if you’re speaking to someone face to face. Just make certain that it does not feel rushed.

#5. Be Timely 

An apology that is too late is almost as awful as no apology at all. It appears like you were not prepared to apologise and were either pushed into it or buckled under the weight of guilt at the last minute.

As soon as you realise your error, you should apologise. Take a few minutes to think about how you can correct the error and what the consequences will be, and then reach out to the appropriate people to apologise.

What Could Happen if You Don’t Apologize?

Apologies are necessary because without them, the following things can occur:

#1. Endangered relationships

If there is misconduct in the office that goes unapologized for, you risk damaging an existing working relationship or preventing one from growing. Apologising can strengthen a relationship, allowing you to collaborate with your coworkers and managers.

#2. Restrict job opportunities

Failure to apologise for mistakes can have a negative impact on your career possibilities, as management may find it difficult to recommend you for promotions or lateral movements to another area. If you want to move to leadership positions, you must be able to accept responsibility for your mistakes. Apologising demonstrates that you recognise your errors and desire to make a genuine effort to remedy them and avoid them from happening again, which demonstrates to your management team that you can accept responsibility and work well with others.

#3. Create false impressions

If you do not apologise for acts that have affected others, folks you work with may form an erroneous impression of you. An apology can genuinely improve a colleague’s perception of you and make them happier and more motivated to work with you if you demonstrate guilt for anything you’ve done.

#4. Demonstrate a lack of honesty

Integrity is important in the job since it demonstrates trustworthiness and dependability, and failing to accept and apologise for mistakes may imply to others that you lack integrity. This may cause people to lose trust in you or to believe they can’t rely on you to do the right thing. Apologising shows a willingness to accept your error and learn from the experience.

Examples of How to Apologize Professionally for a Mistake at Work 

Want to see an example of an excellent workplace apology? Here are some examples for each case.

#1. How to apologize to your boss

Hello, Sarah. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me individually. I want to apologise for botching the sales pitch this morning. I’d been so focused on the re-org that I’d failed to prepare, and instead of emphasising that and letting someone else take over, I fumbled through — and I know I blew this account for us. I’m going to pay more attention to my calendar in the future to avoid this happening again. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to set things right with the client.

#2. Apologizing to your colleague

Hello, Adam. I want to apologise for delivering the incorrect statistics for the legal report. I’m not sure what occurred, but I completely jumbled up the files. I intend to spend Friday reorganising things to ensure that this does not happen again, and in the meantime, I’ve personally called the legal department to clarify that this was my mistake, not yours.

#3. Apologizing for a direct report

Hello, Jane. I’d like to apologise for not listening to you yesterday. I was thinking too much about finishing the assignment on time and not enough about how I was forcing you to work so many extra hours – I really apologise. I want you to know that in the future, I’ll be pushing back on tight deadlines like this, and I want to set up weekly calls where we can discuss your workload.

#4. Apologising to a third-party client

Hi Jim, I want to apologise for any confusion. I accepted the project last month without gaining approval from the finance department, and now I’ve found that we won’t have the budget to proceed until next year. I’d like to apologise for jumping the gun.

I might blame it on how eager I was to get started on this project, but the truth is that I forgot to go through the necessary procedures before making such a large decision. I understand how this reflects negatively on us as a firm, but I hope you will still be interested in working with us when we move forward next year. Meanwhile, I’d like to offer you a free one-hour coaching call to help you make amends. I apologise once more for the misunderstanding.

When Should You Not Apologize at Work? 

While admitting your faults is nearly always a good practice, you should not apologise for every minor error you make. You’ll simply come out as unprofessional and insecure.

Of course, apologise for major errors, but avoid apologising for stuff like:

  • Asking for clarification on something.
  • Giving feedback to colleagues or direct reports. 
  • Taking a sick day. 
  • Using your vacation days. 
  • Taking an appropriate amount of time to respond to an email.
  • Asking someone to do something that’s part of their job description. 
  • Asking for a raise or a promotion. 

Instead of apologizing in these situations, ask politely and professionally for what you need. 

If you have made a tiny mistake, consider saying “thanks for spotting that” or “great catch” instead of “I’m sorry.”

Is it OK to Apologize at Work?

You don’t need to apologise if, for example, you caught and corrected the error before it harmed others. However, if it had an impact (for example, making someone else’s job more difficult or hurting someone’s feelings), you should apologise.

What is a Good Apology Example?

Every apology should begin with the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologise.” For instance, you could say, “I’m sorry I snapped at you yesterday.””I’m embarrassed and ashamed of how I acted.”Your words must be genuine and truthful.

How Do You Apologize Smartly?

Explain that you’re “sorry.”Explain what you’re apologising for. Make your point. Demonstrate that you understand why it was wrong, that you accept responsibility, and that you realise why you caused pain.

How a Boss Should Apologize to an Employee?

As the boss, once you’ve properly outlined what went wrong, explain how you intend to fix the problem. Tell them how you will avoid making the same mistake in the future and what steps you will take if you do.

Should I Apologize for Crying at Work?

People are frequently instructed that they should not cry at work. Tears, especially for women, might be interpreted as a show of weakness. However, sobbing is a natural physiologic reaction to stress, irritation, or sadness.


Now that you’ve learned how to apologise at work, it’s time to construct your apology and make apologies. Remember to keep it brief, say “I’m sorry” or “I apologise,” and explain how you intend to avoid making the same mistake again. Most of the time, people will appreciate your courage in admitting your mistake and will respect you even more for not shying away from it.


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