The Right and Wrong Ways to Apologise When You've Messed Up


Everyone makes mistakes. It’s a fact of life. But when you do in a work context, it’s important to know how to respond to the situation and how to apologise for any negative impact.

Here are some ideas on the right and wrong ways to address your errors.

Understand the concerns of affected parties

First, put yourself in thier shoes, ask how's your mistake affect others. There are 2 questions you can consider.

  1. What are the effects of your mistake to them?
  2. What do people want from you after the mistake?

For example, if you forgot to inform related parties, let say some of your colleagues, in the course of a project, and the project ended up with major mistakes, the colleagues you missed updating, will likely to concern about takig the responsibilities.

Therefore, the direction of your apology can be showing your understanding of their concerns and offering possible solutions.


Blame Others

A lot of people operate with a blame mindset. That means when things go wrong, they never see it as their fault. It’s always down to something or someone else. In those situations, any apology is couched in redirecting the attention elsewhere. Of course, there will be times when this is only fair. But we all know of those occasions when we’ve messed up and it’s down to us. In those situations, accept your role and don’t deflect it elsewhere.

Leave it Too Late

Think about situations where you end up apologising simply because you have nowhere left to hide. Maybe you’ve missed a deadline and only address the issue when your boss approaches you about it. If you don’t apologise up front, you could come across as someone willing to ignore of conceal such mistakes. That’s not a good look for your career. Don’t wait too long.


Take Ownership

If you’ve done something wrong, you’ve got to take ownership so that you can do something about it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t hide from it. Accept things haven’t gone well and take responsibility for it.

Find the Courage

No, it’s not always easy to face up to a mistake. But not apologising can equally make situations worse. This isn’t about finding excuses, it’s about being honest about what’s happened. If you are going to apologise, you have to mean it and be sincere with your response.

Respond Constructively

If you need to apologise for getting something wrong, be open and honest. It’s important to acknowledge the impact of the mistake, big and small, whether that’s on clients, colleagues or the organisation. If there are any solutions that can redress the error, make sure you execute on them. But ensure any promises you make are realistic. You have to be able to deliver on what you suggest.

Validate the Feelings of Others

It’s vital that you consider how others feel, particularly when viewing how your actions may have negatively impacted them. By explaining yourself, it can help in repairing any damage done. It’s not about providing a justification, it’s about connecting with others.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Life, and the mistakes that come with it, will always offer up opportunities to learn. Keep that in mind when you do get the chance to apologise. Take on board any information you can glean from the experience and see how that can help you better navigate a similar situation in the future.

By taking on board these principles, you’ll be able to better react to similar occurrences in the future.

Godfrey Oyeniran

Career coach, financial coach, passionate about personal transformation.

2 min read

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