Workplace Civility: 7 Ways to Make a Sincere Apology to Correct Bad Workplace Actions

Have you ever said something in the workplace and immediately regretted it? Or, after a meeting, a coworker whispers to you, “Wow, that was rough.” about a comment you made? It happens to all of us at one time or another but the key to getting past it, for the sake of workplace civility, is by making an apology that is sincere.

A big part of #workplacecivility is keeping the peace. This includes making a sincere apology when you’ve acted badly. Here are 7 ways to do that effectively. Click To Tweet

Why Making a Sincere Apology Is So Important for Workplace Civility

Whether it was a passing comment, a joke, an intentional dig, a justified critique, or an emotional blurt, it is often best to immediately acknowledge your bad workplace actions and make amends. Acknowledging that you caused someone to become embarrassed, defensive, hurt, or angry is the civil thing to do, whether you agree with their reaction or not.

workplace civility - making a sincere apology in the workplace

Saying “I’m sorry” is difficult for some people, especially when they meant the remark as a joke or believe it was a true statement (in their opinion.) In their minds, they don’t have anything to apologize for—they blame it on the person’s overly sensitive nature. However, in the workplace, we are surrounded by individuals with all different types of personalities. Some may take your comments as a joke. Others may be offended. The responsibility lies with you to understand that and know how to effectively, and civilly, deal with those around you. This sometimes means you are going to need to apologize even when you don’t think you have to.

Moreover, to truly right any wrong you’ve done, you’ll need to make your apology sincere.

For an apology to be sincere, ego and pride have to be checked at the door. For some people, apologizing is a sign of weakness. For these types of people, saying ‘I’m Sorry’ is usually given in a by-the-way delivery as they walk by, or even worse are tweeted or sent via text. Their apologies are also often accompanied by a list of excuses or justifications. There is nothing sincere about any of this.

When saying ‘I’m Sorry,’ consider these several factors that lend to making it sincere:

  • Was the apology given immediately after the offense?
  • Did you merely say, “I apologize” vs. owing it, “I am sorry for … It will not happen again.”?
  • Was there a list of excuses or justifications following the apology?
  • Did you apologize because you got caught?
  • Was the apology posted via social media, creating doubt as to whose words they were; a publicist or your own.

For fun, check out these 17 Best and Worst Celebrity Apologies to see precisely what works… and what doesn’t!

Why Apologizing is Harder for Leadership

When you are a manager or higher level executive of a company, apologizing for bad actions can be a lot tougher. Here’s why:

7 Steps to Delivering a Sincere Apology

For those who want to make amends, being sincere is essential. Not only is considering your words important, but equally important is how you deliver the apology.

  1. Speak to the person whom you have insulted, hurt, or wronged in private.
  2. Whenever possible, speak to the offended party in person. Don’t take the coward’s way out by texting. Use email as a last resort.
  3. If face-to-face is not practical, the next best method is a phone call. While they can’t see your gestures or body language, they can at least hear the sincerity in your voice.
  4. State the offense you are apologizing for. A hurried “I’m sorry” can seem dismissive and insincere.
  5. Don’t try to justify or explain your actions. Just apologize.
  6. If applicable, offer and/or ask how you can help remedy the situation. If they respond, do what you can to act on that and don’t be dismissive.
  7. Shake hands, thank them for accepting your apology, and drop it. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee.
If you need to apologize for bad #workplace behavior, speak to the person whom you have insulted, hurt, or wronged in private. Don’t take the coward’s way out by texting or emailing. Click To Tweet

Taking responsibility for a faux pas or unintentional transgression requires maturity and responsibility. In most cases, once you apologize, you will no doubt have tempered the situation and brought some peace back to the workplace. Moreover, you’ll feel better and have possibly earned respect from the offended party.


Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, Social Skills, Communication Skills, Business Etiquette Expert, Media Source, and author of “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom.

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