Title Card - Apologizing At Work

Apologizing At Work

It happens to everyone. Something that you are involved in has become a topic of heated discussion at work, occasionally with just one other colleague, other times affecting the entire team. Should you just apologize and smooth everything over? Or should your colleague definitely be the one owing you an apology?

There’s no clear or definite answer for every social situation. What may be appropriate in one situation could also be the complete incorrect thing to do in another. Learning social cues can be difficult at times, but with the right mentality and a few helpful hints, you should be able to handle the majority of situations with little trouble.


If you don’t believe what you’re saying, it probably won’t mean much and will likely only make things worse. Apologizing for the sake of apologizing is often the worst strategy, and 9 times out of 10, a person will see right through it for exactly what it is: an avoidance technique designed to put the situation aside rather than actually dealing with the situation.

Always strive to better understand your colleague to create a genuine reaction with an equally genuine response, rather than deciding to take up an acting career. You’re not Leonardo DiCaprio or Meryl Streep, so don’t pretend like you are!


If you truly want to make things better, have a conversation with the people you’re having trouble with in a comfortable, non-threatening atmosphere, and simply communicate your thoughts and opinions. More importantly, ensure that you are paying attention to your colleague’s concerns and keep an open mind about your own opinions. Nobody is perfect, and the chance that your opinion is always going to be 100% correct 100% of the time is so slim, you’ll have a better chance of winning the lottery while being struck by lightning. Be gracious and open with your colleague and treat them with the same respect and attention that you’d expect from them.

Accept All Outcomes

Even if you’ve done everything right, there is always a chance that your colleague(s) won’t be as understanding or forthcoming as you are. Some apologies may go unacknowledged, and that’s okay. The only thing you can control is yourself, and you can only do what you can to rectify the situation.

Apologies may not be accepted, and you have to understand when a strategy just isn’t going to work. Some people may simply understand actions better than words, so if your apology isn’t accepted immediately, repeated actions that show your colleague that you truly meant and learned from your error will go a long way to an eventual resolution. Sometimes, it’s not what you say, but what you do.

Don’t Apologize

That’s right, apologies aren’t always warranted or needed. Consider if you apologize for every dropped pencil or loud cough. You will be apologizing so much that your apology will mean next to nothing. When the time comes for you to actually require an apology, your colleagues will have heard it so much that it will have lost a lot of its meaning. For example, instead of saying “sorry I’m late today”, say something like “thank you for your patience and understanding”. Once again, these will differ depending on the situation you find yourself involved in.

Finally, ask yourself why you’re even apologizing at all. You may find that upon self-reflection, there actually isn’t a need to apologize and you’re just planning to do so out of an abundance of caution. Returning to our point on authenticity, you will find that if your reasons for apologizing aren’t genuine or for the wrong reasons, you may find yourself making things worse.

Apologies aren’t a catch-all for problem solving. Conflict management is a nuanced skill that takes time to develop, so don’t feel bad if things don’t go your way immediately. When in doubt, talk to others and get more opinions, you’ll be surprised at the good advice you receive sometimes.