How to Apologize in the Office

Sooner or later, we all need to apologize for a transgression in the workplace. Whether your misstep is large, such as sending a snarky email to the wrong coworker, or small (eating someone else's yogurt from the office fridge), there's a certain art to apologizing at the office.

apologize in the office

Learning how to apologize with sincerity will help diffuse awkward situations and build trust with colleagues. A caveat, however: before you issue an apology, make sure you really do need to apologize. Don't overuse "I'm sorry" as a conversational smoother. The Internet is chock-full of think pieces about how women are particularly prone to over-apologizing. Apologizing when you don’t need to might feel polite, but it can also be construed as a lack of confidence. Be mindful of how often you’re apologizing and whether you'd expect to receive an apology if the situation were in reverse.

That said, there are plenty of circumstances in which apologies are warranted.

How To Apologize If…

You Send A Catty Email To The Wrong Person

Major oops. In the heat of the moment, you hit "reply" instead of "forward," or you typed in the subject of your ire instead of your pal's name. In this case, your best bet is to track down the unintended recipient ASAP for a private conversation. Apologize for your unprofessional behavior, then address the reason why you were being critical in the first place.

You Accidentally Hit Reply-All

Start by assessing the damage. If your reply-all was harmless, it might be best to simply ignore your mistake rather than further clog inboxes. You might also be able to apologize in a joking manner. ("Sorry for the over sharing!") However, if your reply-all inappropriately revealed information or was embarrassing for your company, you need to take appropriate steps to manage the damage. Admit your mistake, and apologize to your supervisor as soon as possible. Then, follow his or her guidance as far as asking for forgiveness from the group at large.

Autocorrect Fails You

Perhaps your computer "corrected" an unusually spelled client name, or turned a word into something entirely different (public vs. pubic comes to mind). Apologize by appealing to the recipient's humanity—we've all been failed by autocorrect—and figure out how to add custom entries to your device’s autocorrect.

When You Make A Big Mistake That Affects Others

If you discover a mistake you can't easily fix before others feel the impact, admit fault and demonstrate remorse to your supervisor as soon as possible. Be prepared to explain how the blunder happened, how you plan to remedy the situation, and what steps you'll take to ensure it doesn't happen again.

When You Miss A Deadline

Again, admit fault and apologize as soon as possible—both to your supervisor and to the person most affected. Explain why you missed the deadline, how you'll work to catch up as quickly as you can, and how you'll plan better in the future.

When You Accidentally Burp/Pass Gas In The Office.

Sometimes it just happens. If you must acknowledge the situation—that is, if there's no question you're the culprit—apologize quickly and, if necessary, excuse yourself from the room. When you return, act as if nothing happened.

When You Eat Someone Else's Food From The Office Fridge

The office kitchen is the scene of much workplace drama (generally of the passive-aggressive variety). If you accidentally grab the wrong soda or yogurt, figure out whose snack you stole and make amends. Apologize and pick up a replacement item for your colleague.

Some say love means never having to say you're sorry—but working together certainly requires it. Sincere apologies are a strong way to build trust in the workplace.

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