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Apologizing on the job

How to say 'I'm sorry' when you've messed up
Justin Thompson, CareerBuilder Writer

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You're going to make mistakes at work. Perhaps you're in the middle of a presentation to your business team, and you spot a major typo. Or your boss's email made you so angry that you share a scathing diatribe with a co-worker, later realizing you hit "reply all" when sending your message. Maybe you complained about a team member in the kitchen, and he walked in to hear every scornful word.

It's happened to all of us, and it's not fun. However, you can atone for your workplace sins. Take responsibility and quickly remedy the harm you've caused. Determine if your mistake is of the professional or personal kind and figure out how you can fix it.

Shauna Heathman, owner of Mackenzie Image Consulting, shares four basic steps for fixing a workplace goof:

1. Weigh the impact of your mistake: You need to figure out how big a mistake you've made and how to apologize without blowing it up into an even bigger issue -- or worse, not acknowledging your mistake at all. Always analyze the best medium to use when apologizing, whether it's via email, face-to-face or a public announcement. If you mocked a co-worker who was right behind you, go to her directly. There's no need for a grandiose public apology, but an email is not personal enough.

2. Apologize quickly and sincerely: Transparency is best, and you should take full responsibility for your actions. Attempting to be elusive to save face rarely works, and dallying doesn't help matters either, so make your apology clear, to the point and sincere. Don't overdramatize or make excuses for your actions. Just apologize.

3. Be able to laugh at yourself: There's no point in throwing yourself into a complete tizzy unless you've broken a cardinal rule, such as flinging an expletive directly at the CEO. Otherwise, know how to laugh at yourself if it's something non-personal and minor like typos or unintended accidents. Still apologize, but recognize that you're only human and that everyone makes mistakes.

4. Take preventive measures: As part of your apology, provide reassurance that you'll do your best to never let it happen again. The bigger the blunder, the more reassurance you'll need to provide. If typos or smaller issues were the offender, having someone edit your work can help minimize such mistakes in the future. When it comes to bigger mistakes, like an infamous "reply all" or being caught slandering your co-worker, just let the person or your boss know that if you have serious concerns you'll just address them in person next time.

Shane Wagg of marketing agency Search Tactix shared some mistakes he's encountered at his own company and while working with other companies.

"As an employer, I have had employees come to me with pained looks on their faces admitting to an oversight or error which could have resulted in financial liability," Wagg says. "But they got in front of it and in front of a manager sooner rather than later, which helped to contain the damage.

"And speaking of [other work-related errors], one of the larger technology companies in the world came to us with a pitch idea this week, and a competitor's name [was] on it. In fact, when we called it out, they claimed it was a typo," Wagg adds.

So as you can see, everyone has to be mindful of their work and their mouth in the workplace. If you have serious concerns about certain issues, talk to your co-workers or your boss and address them head-on. If you're getting caught in petty emotional wastelands, take a breath and refocus your energy on your work.

Justin Thompson is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.



Last Updated: 19/12/2011 - 4:16 PM


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