How Would You Like Your Apology Delivered?

I had lunch the other day with a client and he was telling me that he felt really bad about a situation asked my thoughts.  My thought was he should apologize.  That is when he told me that it had been about six weeks and maybe it was too late.  There is always time to apologize.


If someone has hurt your feelings it is always better to get an apology even if it is delayed.


In a professional setting we can ignore the opinions of others and generally just push through with tunnel vision to get a goal accomplished.  In doing so we step on toes and show a measure of disrespect.  Although most will not admit to it, but there is a personal connection, a personal feeling of hurt, pain or rejection.


Business is business but under it all it is personal.


Not too long ago I wrote a blog titled Six Steps For a Genuine Apology and oh look – a handy link so you can go read it!


Knowing that you need to, want to and how to apologize is a major step; but a lot of people get bound up by the passage of time.  That is what really starts to scare them.


How can I possibly approach them now to apologize?


Easy – show up.


The biggest cop out is to text someone.  Bad, bad, BAD!  It is like you are saying, “this has been bugging me so I thought I should say I’m sorry but I’m not really sorry enough to actually talk to you.”  Wrong, wrong, wrong.


Email isn’t much better, although sometimes it is the only way due to actual distance.  It isn’t like you can hop on a plane and travel across the country to show up on their doorstep.  However if distance is an issue a phone call would be much preferable.


Hey, it takes guts to pick up that phone but it also lets the other person HEAR the sincerity in your voice.  The written word can always be misconstrued.  Think about caps lock – most of the time it means you are yelling at someone.  You certainly do not want someone to think you are yelling an apology.  Poor form.


Pick up the dang phone.  Swallow your pride and remember the reason for the call.  An apology is needed and you need to deliver it.

Don’t try to avoid the in person delivery by trying to buy your way out of it.  Sending flowers or gifts is a cop out if that is your only method.  Something in addition to the personal apology is a completely different story, but it is not to be used in place of the real thing.  Almost every woman I know hates to get flowers as an apology, we all feel it is a cop out like he is saying, “Here, look at something pretty and forget that I was a butthead” – but getting them because it is Tuesday, now that is a whole different story!

The best apology is delivered in person.  This way the other person can see your sincerity and hear it.  It is also the scariest tactic of them all, but again, this is not about you.


My client was still pretty nervous about the apology, not in the delivery but in how it would be received.  So I told him that there were three possible ways:


  1. They would accept it and move forward in a positive way.
  2. They would accept it and still be angry at him.
  3. They would not accept it and continue to think he was a jackass.


Honestly – it is as simple as that.  Those are your options.  Think about the worst case scenario and be prepared for it.  It can happen but that should not deter you from apologizing.  Remember, if you are apologizing then you were in the wrong at some level so it is their right to accept or not.


Once you apologize then cut yourself a little slack.  You played grown up and took responsibility and did the right thing to try to make it right.  There may be more work to do but at least you can have the solace that you took the first step and that is a big thing.


Apologies are not easy and they are not always a cure-all.  Normally they are the first step in a series of thought, actions or events that begin the healing process.  Sometimes the process is quick and painless sometimes it is a long, hard road of proving yourself.


Whether you decide to take that path and follow through with it depends on one thing: how much you value the other person.  If they, or the relationship is worth it, they you know some time rebuilding is worth the reward or reconnecting.


It all starts with that first step of showing up.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.



Six Steps For a Genuine Apology

The screw up – it is what makes us human, what helps us learn and grow, it can be something we can look back at and laugh at one day or, untreated, it can cause major damage to professional and personal relationships.


I found a great quote the other day: “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” ~ Orlando A. Battista


We all make errors, but to correct them, to salvage relationships and to create moments that we can actually laugh about one day takes one key event: the apology.


It has been said, or sung – I know there is a song about this, that saying sorry is the hardest thing to do.  No, not so much.


I’m sorry.


See, pretty easy.


The hard part is meaning it, saying it correctly, understanding the ramifications and the willingness to follow through with the appropriate actions.  Oh yes, there is far more to saying you are sorry than just spitting out those three little words; or two if you are using a contraction.


The Preparation


Do not say it on a whim. 


If you have messed up with a boss or co-worker do not simply pop your head in their office or cube on the way back from the break room and say, “sorry” then go on as though nothing every transpired.


If it is a personal relationship – don’t simply text them “sorry” or “sry”


Both of these convey lack of effort, care or consideration.  In other words they are empty or fake apologies.


Do not say it just to shut them up.


Sometimes when in the midst of a screw up you want to say “I’m sorry” just to shut the other person up and stop the verbal assault.  This will not work.


Understand why you are saying it.


Do you even know why the other person is upset?  If not, do you know why you want to apologize?  Do you need to keep peace with your boss or co-worker or keep a friend in your life?


You need to try to understand their point of view; but you also need to understand your motivations.  If you are okay with the screw up completely severing the relationship then there really is no need for an apology now is there?


If there is a need – swallow your pride and step up to the plate.  If you are waiting for the other person to come to you to open the door to make it easier for you to apologize to them then I hate to tell you but you will be waiting for a very long, long time….


The Execution


Make it real.


If you are saying you are sorry just to keep the peace the other person can spot that a mile away.  It will do more damage, not only is there a screw up but now you added insult to injury.


Do not use it as a way to justify.


The apology is not the way to sneak in one more attack on “I was right and you were wrong.”  You may need to explain your point of view but it is not the time to attack their thinking or actions.


Saying things like, “I did not see or consider your viewpoint.  I may not see it the same way that you do but that is no reason for what I said to come across as dismissing your viewpoint – I am sorry.” Goes a lot further than, “I don’t see how you can see it that way but I’m sorry I snapped at you.”


Take responsibility.


“I really thought that I understood the parameters of the project and your expectations, I should have clarified, I am sorry I screwed up, I should have come to you” let’s your boss know that you are taking ownership and that you were not being dismissive.


Do not blame your screw up on someone else, they did not make you screw up or be a butthead.  You did that all on your own.  You may have misunderstood something, and that is what you need to let them know – you misunderstood and therefore you screwed up.


The apology is about you meaning you are sorry and making amends to them – not the other way around.  Do not use the apology to try to make them feel guilty into apologizing to you.  The only way this apology is about you is in your admitting your error and correcting it.


If action needs to be taken – do it.


If you screwed up due to lack of knowledge or skills now is the time to recognize it and ask for help in getting the required skill set to make sure it does not happen again.


Sometimes it is a matter or learning a process or procedure better; sometimes it is utilizing the resources that are right there in front of you: your teammates.


Maybe you continually put something off to the last minute and it is a critical piece for your teammate in order to complete their job.  You need to take steps to make sure that you stop giving it to them at the last minute or the apology was empty.


Use language and delivery that they will understand and appreciate.


My most scary work apology was when I potentially created major damage with a new and lucrative client and could have cost the office a lot of money.  I was in my role for just a few months when I did my major screw up.


As soon as I realized it the first thing I did was panic.  My boss was going to kill me, I was out of my league here and I was going to be fire, life on earth would end as I knew it and the cosmos were going to come crashing down on me.  I told you, I panicked.


The next thing I did was go to my team and tell them what happened and asked for their help.  What do I need to do to correct this is the first thing I asked.  I didn’t ask them to fix it for me, I asked for their expertise and guidance.  (Emphasizing the above point here.)


I then put their plan in action and started unraveling the damage I had done.


Then my boss came back into the office.  With this kind of screw up I was not going to call him on the phone, I knew it best to be face to face with him.  I gathered all my information and documentation and forced myself to walk into his office.


This is where I used a delivery he would appreciate and understand.  My boss was a man of few words and wielded a great deal of respect and fear.  I knew I had to be short, to the point and direct – very direct.


“I need to talk to you for a minute.  I didn’t just screw up, I really fu@%ed up.  Here is what I did…and here is what I am doing to correct it.”  I then outlined in a professional and succinct way where I was in the process, who was helping, what the timelines were and the anticipated results – what the possible negatives were and how those could be corrected if they happened.


I then braced myself in my little high heel shoes for the onslaught.


He looked at me and said, “Ok, keep me posted.”  Then he left for the day.  Holy crap!


The whole experience was one of my biggest professional training sessions ever.


Don’t expect anything in return.


Once you apologize the recipient has choices: to forgive you, to work through it or to continue to be upset.  That is their choice, not yours.  Do not expect that just because you feel bad, apologize and take steps to make sure it never happens again that all will be sunshine and roses.  It may not.


But that should not be a deterrent for apologizing.  If an apology is the right thing to do then do it for that reason, not for an end result.


Be prepared that you may be put to the test to see if you really mean it.  This means that your actions from here on out need to support your apology and subsequent words.


Saying you are sorry is hard, as is any follow up actions that you need to make.  However, if the relationship is worth saving then it deserves a genuine apology.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.