September 13th, 2016

How to Apologize for a Mistake in the Workplace

It’s never too late to apologize.

In theory, every moment at work is a perfect example of poise and professionalism. In reality, we’re all human. We make mistakes. Eventually, we run into a moment when our behavior is not professional or becoming. Moments like these have been common in the past few weeks.

From a certain swimmer who misconstrued a night of partying and debauchery, to a renowned goalie that trash-talked the opposing team after losing, the last few weeks have shown us how a momentary slip up can impact a career.

Ever need to apologize for something at work? Here's how: via @ajilon

We’ve had the opportunity to watch these acclaimed athletes handle their faux pas on a world stage. The results have not been pretty and these individuals have paid the price – in the form of voided contracts and lost sponsorships, just to name a few. You may wonder how one slip up can cost someone so much.

The answer might be simple: there was never a sincere apology.

In this day and age of technology, the public has access to a wealth of information about almost every other person on the planet. It’s not the inappropriate behavior that sticks with us. It’s a lack of remorse. As workforce experts, we believe in the power of a simple “I’m sorry.”

Here are the best ways to recover after a slip up at work:

  1. Take a moment to reflect.

    The severity and circumstances of the incident will determine how long your moment can be. However, it’s important that you take a moment to reflect on your behavior, why it happened and how it impacts others. Avoiding the problem or becoming defensive will not do anyone any favors.

  2. Use “I” statements.

    When you finally do respond, use I statements and don’t assign external blame. There will always be circumstances that push you beyond your limit. The apology is not the time to address those circumstances.

  3. Don’t just apologize. Separate.

    During an apology addressing the ways in which your problematic behavior or reactions affect others is important. It is also important to isolate the incident or to create a plan for moving forward. This demonstrates the depth of your consideration and remorse.

  4. Learn from it and move forward.

    Try to avoid making the same mistake twice. Once is a slip-up. Twice begins to establish a pattern. If there is a deeper underlying issue that will cause consistent problems, then share that with your leadership team and create a plan for moving forward.

Everyone makes mistakes. Some handle them better than others. Amy Robach is a perfect example. When discussing whitewashing in film, she used the phrase “colored people.” Understandably, people were deeply offended. Amy listened, took a couple of hours to consider her behavior, issued a statement taking personal responsibility, explained how the incident was isolated and promised to be more careful moving forward.

Guess what? Everyone has pretty much dropped it – she’s no longer trending and being scrutinized. Unlike the aforementioned athletes, Amy Robach’s response was spot on. By being genuine and remorseful, she salvaged her job, her reputation and began the healing process for others.

For more advice on the job, like how to help employees get a long at the office, visit


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