You have just written an incredibly detailed reporting email, riddled with personal notes on how each of your colleagues contributed to a project. You hit “send,” and immediately realize the email was sent to your entire team. Your face gets hot and your heart races as you do everything you can to prevent the email from sending. But the damage is done.

We have all been there. Whether it be CC’ing instead of BCC’ing your email list, including improper grammar in a newsletter or press release, sending office gossip to the wrong person in a chat window, missing out on scheduling social media for the brand or an array of other – perhaps worse – offenses, we all make mistakes. The work environment is certainly no exception, and can often be more difficult to deal with than missteps made in your social or home life.

Being able to admit when we are wrong is a skill a lot of people must continuously work on. While women historically apologize more frequently than men do — a point of contention in the modern workplace — there is something to be said for self-awareness. Sometimes, it is just better to level with someone about their emotions or reactions than to let something fester, no matter how small the misstep may seem at the time. Learning how to apologize professionally can be one of the most important lessons you teach yourself. It may even help further your career.

Apologies foster healthy relationships

Working with the same people day in and day out can help foster miscommunication and work disruptions. As uncomfortable as admitting our faults can make us feel, it is important for our own growth to acknowledge when we have messed up. It can help us evaluate where we have room to grow, and even inspire us to learn something new. Correcting ourselves in a timely and productive manner can be of great importance in an office setting, especially if we want to restore our colleagues’ confidence in our abilities or attitude.

For those of us who work with teams, fostering healthy relationships with those colleagues can make or break our careers.

Understand your headspace

If you are unsure how to approach your apology, you may need to take a beat. (You have more time to think about it when it isn’t an in-person scenario.) Take some time to evaluate what headspace you are in. Many companies have fostered overwhelm, and are making a concerted effort to adjust moving forward.

If you are truly exhausted and mentally drained to the point that you are misstepping in the workplace — and only if you truly do feel exhausted — you may want to admit it. Remember, you are not trying to justify your actions or play the victim in your mishap, but you do want to understand where the inconsistencies are coming from. (If not only to improve upon yourself and manage your mindset and expectations moving forward.)

Authenticity plays a big role in a professional apology

While the past several years have taught us to be more in tune with ourselves and our own needs when approaching our careers, they have also been a strong lesson in authenticity. In fact, authenticity is now used as a buzzword in the working world. This is hardly surprising. After all, once you can be honest with who you are, you can discover your strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to your job.

Vulnerability, confidence, empathy and open-mindedness are key features in being authentic. So when you do make a mistake — be it a misunderstanding in the boardroom or ripping on a coworker when you think there is no possibility that it will get back to them — the people around you are set up to value your honesty more readily. It is always easier to swallow an apology from someone who is willing to admit they can be wrong. (In other words, no one wants to be working with someone who thinks they are always right or tries to skew the truth.)

So, with authenticity in mind, here are some things to remember when preparing your apology, in person or digitally.

  • Acknowledge the issue
  • Apologize sincerely
  • Explain your plan
  • Ask for forgiveness

Apologize professionally in person

Saying “I’m sorry” in person is something that most people do without hesitation when small bumps in the road occur. When work is happening with other people in the same environment, it can often be easier to read social cues and notice when you have offended someone or messed up regarding the task at hand. In-person dynamics and relationships are a lot more intimate than digital interaction, as you spend many of your waking hours in the same space as your team.

While a knee-jerk reaction or “sorry” is never suggested, waiting too long to apologize could come off as insincere. Be sure to approach the person you have offended within a reasonable amount of time. When in doubt, keeping communication short and sweet can move mountains in person. Especially when the person you are speaking with can sense your sincerity and see the emotion on your face.

When approaching management or someone you report to with an apology, ensure that the moment is convenient for them. If the transgression was particularly awkward or notable, you may want to schedule a time to chat to better prepare yourself for an open conversation and prepare a format similar to how you would with a digital apology.

Apologize professionally in the digital space

Remote work and hybrid business models can make communication even more difficult in some instances. Having an open team chat can feel invasive, especially if we do not actively set proper boundaries around work and home life. Three important things to remember in a written apology? Noting the offense, admitting the issues you recognize in it, and dedicating yourself to better behavior or a more invested approach to the work is incredibly important in these instances.

Often, apologizing via a chat space or CRM is perfectly acceptable with your colleagues. This is especially true if the mistake took place within the CRM system. A workflow hitch, missing a deadline, or sending the wrong message to someone is often considered quick fixes, especially if you have established rapport with the person you are speaking with. Sometimes, waxing poetic is just not necessary. It is up to you to determine when it is.

Depending on the extent of the mishap, you may find that a more formal email format will work wonders. This is especially helpful when apologizing to higher-ups in the company, like management or the C-Suite team. These types of apologies are often necessary when a blunder is witnessed by multiple team members or a client. They also apply if there was a miscalculation that drastically affected a workflow or deadline.

A motivational quote about teamwork in your email signature always adds a bit of emphasis as well.

Establish standards moving forward

Whether you approach your apology in person or digitally, it is important to dedicate yourself to continued education, or lifelong learning. No matter how long you have been in your position or how advanced you are in your career, there is always room for improvement. Admitting that is the first step. Actively seeking learning opportunities not only fosters innovation in your industry, but it helps to keep your brain active and can be the cherry on top of an apology scenario.

It is important to remember that not every mistake warrants a full-blown apology. In fact, if you are someone who apologizes frequently, it may cause your coworkers to question your sincerity – and maybe even your capabilities in your role. Be open to giving and receiving feedback when necessary, and you may just see your colleagues and work through a new lens.

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