Our human nature—our need to preserve a positive image of ourselves—makes us pretty bad at apologizing. But if you’ve had a career for longer than a week, you’ve figured out that you’re going to make mistakes that will only be resolved through an honest apology.
Apologies done well are powerful. In fact, an honest, sincere apology can result in positive improvements in how people perceive you. Here are three big steps you can take toward a meaningful apology.
Express remorse. “I’m sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by this comment” are not apologies; these are examples of what people say when they don’t want to apologize for their actions. It’s better to simply say, “I am sorry. I regret doing that.”
Accept responsibility. Don’t try to explain why you did the action you’re apologizing for, because that isn’t taking responsibility. Although your willingness to apologize is the first step in taking responsibility, go further by saying, “I take full responsibility for this” or “I should not have done that.”
Offer to improve. You could offer to never make a mistake again, but this is unrealistic. Instead, promise you’ll try harder next time and that you’ll reflect more carefully on how your decisions affect others. Offering to improve is how you demonstrate you’ve actually learned from your mistake. It’s also a good opportunity to offer to repair the situation, if you can.
Unfortunately, you can’t always fix things. When you can’t, the best you can do is demonstrate you’ve grown as a result of your mistake.