When Should You Say Sorry at Work?


Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Apologizing when you're managing a team can be a difficult and delicate line to tread. So when should you be saying sorry?

Article 3 Minutes
When Should You Say Sorry at Work?

Being a leader of a team can often feel like one giant balancing act. You want to communicate effectively with the people you're managing and be someone they feel comfortable raising issues with, but it's also important that they respect your authority.

This conundrum can make knowing when to - and when not to - apologize difficult. Not saying it when it's warranted could jeopardize the long-term dynamics of your team but admitting fault when it's not necessary could cause your team to lose respect for you.

So when should you say sorry at work?

Be conscious

It's important that you're not just saying sorry as a filler in your sentences. Starting instructions with 'sorry but...' can massively undermine your position as a leader, making you sound uncertain.

At work, you should only ever say sorry when you're consciously apologizing for something you've done or the way something outside your control has impacted another member of the team. Once you start thinking about how and when you're saying sorry, you can have much more control over how you appear as a manager.

Hold your hands up

If you've made a mistake or had a decision that has negatively impacted someone else, you need to apologize regardless of your position in the company. This cultivates a culture where everyone is accountable for their decisions and where honesty is at the heart. However it's important that you put your words into action.

Of course, the amount you are able to do to rectify the situation will depend entirely on the situation you're faced with. For example, if you were overly dismissive of someone in a meeting there's nothing you can do about the actual event but you can express your apologies to the individual. However, for something more low-key, like missing a one-to-one with your colleague, you can reschedule it as soon as possible.

Identifying ways to resolve issues that have arisen from your poor decisions is a crucial element of apologizing as a leader. But it's just as important to think about how you are going to say sorry to make sure the situation is handled appropriately.

Acknowledge others' feelings

You don't have to be apologizing for something you've personally done to say sorry, in fact the word can be an effective way of recognizing when people on your team are unhappy. For example, if someone misses out on a promotion, it's good to say "I'm sorry you missed out on that".

It's an effective way for leaders to communicate with their team and let employees know that how they feel is important to them. It doesn't show weakness but instead shows that the morale and general wellbeing of your team matters to you as a manager.

However, like in other instances, it's important that you are sincere in the way you say it and don't wrongly assign blame to yourself. Saying sorry when you don't mean it or it's not warranted can mean your employees lose respect for you and in your ability to be their manager.

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