April 3, 2018 ・ Written by T.J. Duane

How apologizing can be your best professional asset.

It’s not weakness. It’s a strength.

How apologizing can be your best professional asset.

We’ve all made mistakes. Whether that’s saying something insensitive, forgetting an appointment, or failing to put your dishes in the office dishwasher, screwing up is inevitable from time to time.

So if we’re all destined to make mistakes, what can separate you from the crowd? Your ability to own your actions, and the effect they have on others. It’s a rare skill these days (and an undervalued one.)

After all, strong relationships aren’t ones where nothing goes wrong. They’re built on mutual trust, and the knowledge that if somebody messes up, they’ll do what’s right.

I’m not too proud to admit that recently I stepped in it with a member of my team. Bigtime. After a pretty uncomfortable meeting, they came to me with a long, heartfelt message about how I had hurt them.

Rather than getting defensive, I took notes. I heard them. And I apologized in full. Thankfully, we’re all good now. It wasn’t just the right thing to do – it ended up strengthening our relationship. Now this teammate knows that if they have a problem, they don’t have to be afraid of speaking up.

If you’ve messed it up at work, here are some guidelines for how to apologize, and start rebuilding the relationship that’s on the rocks. A great apology comes in 3 parts:

Part 1: I’m sorry I ___.
“I’m sorry you felt that way,” is not an apology. It’s a way of avoiding owning your actions. After all, why do you need to apologize for someone’s feelings? It’s your actions that were the problem, no matter how well-intentioned. Beginning your apology by naming what you did wrong makes it very clear that you understood the problem. That acknowledgement is a prerequisite to healing your relationship.

Part 2: You must have felt ___.
A little empathy goes a long way. By simply recognizing the effect that your actions had on the other person, it indicates that you care. If the person has already told you how they felt it’s never a bad idea to mirror that emotion back to them. That way they know it sunk in.

Part 3: I won’t do that again.
Finally, assure the other person that you will make an effort not to do [that bad thing] again. Maybe you can’t promise this all the time (after all, humans are creatures of habit). In that case, outline what changes you’ll make to avoid the problem in the future. This offers reassurance that the relationship can get better, and helps everyone move forward.

Sometimes it can be hard to acknowledge others’ feelings at work, but it’s so important. I can’t always get it right the first time, but empathy can help me pull things back on course. It may not belong on a resume, but it lies beneath all our greatest accomplishments.