How To Apologize To Your Boss For A Mistake At Work?

Admitting that you messed up isn’t easy. Psychologists have offered many reasons as to why human nature makes it so difficult to accept we are wrong.

The fact of the matter is, though, that overcoming those reasons and admitting your mistakes will get you further in your career and in life in general.

I admit that it’s not easy. It requires a strong character and humility.

However, people will respect your ability to own up to your errors – especially your boss. If you make a mistake at work, apologizing can help fix the situation before things get worse.

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Why do You Need to Apologize?

Why do You Need to Apologize?

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Should you apologize for a mistake you made at work? The answer, in the vast majority of cases, is a resounding yes.

Everyone makes slight mistakes and errors, and apologizing daily is a bit too much – it shows a lack of confidence and assertiveness. In some cases, you can simply correct your mistakes and move on.

However, if you make a significant mistake, it’s critical to apologize. Here’s why.

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It Helps Reduce Tension

A mistake can cause tension between you and your boss or you and your coworkers, depending on the specific error. This tension can make things uncomfortable in the workplace, decrease communication, and make going to work less enjoyable for everyone.

Apologizing can decrease tensions and put everyone on good terms with each other again. That can improve collaboration.

It Helps Rebuild Trust

As the old saying goes, trust is difficult to build but easy to break. That applies to romantic relationships, friendships, and work relationships.

Once you’ve broken someone’s trust, it can be challenging to rebuild it. Apologizing, however, is one of the best ways to mend broken trust.

Trust is important in all interpersonal relationships, including work relationships.

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It Makes It More Likely to Get Promotions

It Makes It More Likely to Get Promotions

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Your boss might not fire you for your mistake. However, they may pass you over for promotions or avoid giving you bonuses; they may even demote you or transfer you to a different department.

Apologizing is one of the best ways to repair your relationship with your boss and have them consider you for career advancements. It’s a small but significant step that can do wonders for your career trajectory.

If you eventually decide to leave the company, you will feel more comfortable putting your boss down as a reference. They will be more likely to recommend you and talk highly of you.

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Different Ways to Apologize

Different Ways to Apologize

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There are a few ways you can go about apologizing. The best apology would be an in-person one, but sending an email is also essential, as it serves as an official record of communication.

Send an Email

Send an Email

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Sending an email is a great way to apologize. It allows you to carefully craft an apology message and put forth your thoughts in a clear and organized manner.

It’s easy to make mistakes when apologizing in person, so if you’re bad at communicating in person, an email might be a good alternative. Furthermore, an email might be appropriate if your boss isn’t available to meet with you.

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Make a Phone or Video Call

Make a Phone or Video Call

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Another option is apologizing over a voice or video call. This option is appropriate if you work remotely and communicate with your manager and team members via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet.

Do It In Person

In-person apologies are tough, but doing it in person is often the best way to correct a mistake and fix things. It allows you to use body language to communicate in a way that you can’t over email or even over a video call.

How to Apologize to Your Boss for a Mistake at Work – Step by Step

How to Apologize to Your Boss for a Mistake at Work

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Use this guide to apologize the right way. Note that every situation is different, but these tips will help you make an apology that your boss accepts so you can both move on.

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Understand Your Mistake

The first step is understanding your mistake. What did you do wrong?

Without understanding the full extent of your mistake, you’re not going to know what to apologize for.

Figure out what you did wrong and what you should have done differently. Understand what was expected of you and how you failed to meet those expectations.

Don’t Delay

Don’t drag your feet. Apologize as soon as possible.

The longer you wait to apologize, the more likely bad feelings are to get worse as they fester. Your boss may even start reconsidering your place at the firm.

If you apologize as soon as possible, you can avoid a lot more consequences as a result of your mistake.

Accept Responsibility

Accept Responsibility

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The next step is accepting responsibility. This step is so important – it is not just enough to acknowledge your mistake, but you must also assume responsibility for it.

That will show that you have a sense of obligation and a dedication to improving. It demonstrates humility and that you don’t let your ego get in the way of admitting your mistakes.

It’s a rare character trait, and it shows you have worked on yourself. Furthermore, it shows that you take responsibility for your actions – in turn, that means you are someone who thinks twice before doing things and considers the potential effects.

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Be Sincere and Respectful

Be Sincere and Respectful

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Whether you’re writing an email or apologizing in person, your tone of voice is critical. It’s essential to be respectful throughout your email or conversation.

Be sincere in your apology. If you are meeting with your boss in person, pay extra attention to avoid a tone of voice that can come across as sarcastic, defensive, accusatory, or just non-apologetic.

If you are writing an email, avoid passive-aggressive language. Remember that people can misinterpret your words, so try not to leave any possibility for that.

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Acknowledge Hurt Feelings or Other Consequences of Your Actions

Acknowledge Hurt Feelings or Other Consequences of Your Actions

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It’s important not just to acknowledge your mistake but also what your error led to. There are a few kinds of consequences that may have resulted due to your actions.

The first is hurt feelings. Depending on the mistake, you may have slighted your coworkers, embarrassed your boss, or otherwise hurt someone.

It’s essential to make sure their feelings are validated and acknowledged. Otherwise, it will be impossible to move on from your mistake; it’s one thing to say that you’re sorry, but you need to ensure the other person feels validated.

It might not necessarily be your boss, as I already mentioned. If you slighted a coworker, they might threaten to quit their job.

That coworker may be very valuable to the firm, so your boss may be understandably upset with you. In that case, you would have to apologize not only to your boss but to your coworker as well – you’ll have to mend things with your coworker to placate your boss.

Alternatively, if your actions resulted in financial harm to your company, damage to property, or other tangible losses, make sure to acknowledge those as well. Depending on the specific situation, you might have to cover the losses or make up for them in some way or another.

For example, if your mistake caused the firm to lose a client, you might have to work on finding a new client. Alternatively, you might try to sort things out with the client and bring them back to the firm.

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Don’t Attempt to Shift the Blame

Don’t Attempt to Shift the Blame

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This step is super important, as it’s a common mistake that many people make when apologizing. While they apologize, they don’t want to accept the blame fully, so they find ways to shift the blame away from them, either onto others or uncontrollable factors.

It is most noticeable in the language and wording you use. For example, compare these two apologies:

  • I sincerely apologize for being abusive to the client. That will never happen again.
  • I’m sorry for being verbally abusive to the client, but they were being very pushy and annoying.

In the second example, you are shifting the blame away from you onto the client. The truth is that there is no excuse for being verbally abusive to clients.

There is no need for any “buts.” It just makes your apology less genuine and makes it look like you don’t want to accept responsibility for your actions.

Compare these other two examples:

  • I’m genuinely sorry for not sending that important email.
  • I didn’t mean to forget to send the email.

In the second example, you’re shifting the blame away from you. Even though you’re not pointing to any specific factor, you’re trying to excuse yourself by saying your mistake wasn’t intentional when, in truth, you could probably have taken steps to avoid it.

Of course, there will be times when there are factors truly out of your control. For example, if you usually take the bus to work, and it got into an accident, causing you to be late on the day of an important meeting, your boss will understand (if they are a reasonable person).

In those cases, explaining yourself would make sense.

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Make Sure Your Body Language Is on Point

This step doesn’t apply to email apologies, but it’s crucial for in-person apologies. Body language makes up an essential part of communication.

Avoid aggressive, angry, and defiant body language signals. An example is crossing your arms over your chest.

You should leave your chest and stomach open without using your hands or arms to cover them. That signals vulnerability and openness.

Eye contact is critical, as avoiding eye contact can mean that you aren’t genuinely sorry and are just making the apology to get it over with. However, staring into someone’s eyes too long can also be a sign of aggression, so make eye contact but take breaks and look elsewhere from time to time.

The way you sit can make a difference as well. Leaning back into your chair and crossing your legs is a sitting position that’s a bit too comfy for an apology conversation.

You might want to lean forward instead, signaling your intention of listening to the other person.

Be serious. Don’t be too cheerful or laugh a lot while you’re apologizing; it shows you are not taking the topic seriously or giving it the weight it deserves, even if you say you are.

Ask for a Conversation in a Private Place

If possible, ask to talk in a quiet place where you have privacy. That way, you can feel comfortable expressing yourself and apologizing fully.

That could be in your manager’s private office, for example, or in a quiet corner. You could also ask to meet in a coffee shop.

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Don’t Make the Apology About Yourself

Some people don’t have the tact to apologize appropriately. When you apologize to someone, make it about them – how you hurt them and how you will rectify the situation to make it better for them.

Of course, you have a vested interest in apologizing, as not doing so could negatively affect your position at the firm and your career opportunities. Don’t make your apology about that, though.

Commit to Change

Commit to Change

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One of the things that makes an apology sincere is demonstrating your willingness to change. After all, if you aren’t willing to change the way you do things, you’ll just end up making the same mistakes, which makes your apology pretty much worthless.

However, it’s not just enough to express a willingness to change. You must commit to change; make that clear in your apology.

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Outline Your Next Steps

You must also be proactive about finding a solution to the problem and repairing the damage. Furthermore, as part of committing to change, you must figure out the next steps you will take to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again.

For example, if you hurt the feelings of a coworker, you might take classes in anger management and interpersonal relations to ensure you never do that again. While that’s an extreme example, there are always opportunities to improve.

If the mistake was related to your actual work, you could take additional training courses to improve your skills and avoid the mistakes you made. You could use an app to ensure you take care of all tasks on your to-do list.

The exact steps to take will depend on the specific mistake you made. It requires some creative thinking and a genuine desire for the future to be different.

Stick to Your Plan

Once you’ve outlined a plan to make sure you don’t commit the same error again, stick to it. That’s the only way your boss will know you were genuine in your apology.

Too many people apologize, promise to change, and never do so. They lack the proper motivation and desire to change; it’s easier to fall back into old habits than work on yourself.

Rest assured that your boss will notice if you make actual changes to your lifestyle or work ethic or not. Besides, if you don’t make any changes, you are bound to make the same mistake again, and your boss might not be as understanding the next time around.

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How to Apologize for Specific Mistakes?

How to Apologize for Specific Mistakes?

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I thought it would be helpful to go through some common mistakes people make at work and how to apologize for them.

How to Apologize to Your Boss for Being Rude?

If you were rude to your boss, you need to figure out why that happened. Do you have anger management issues?

If you are usually a calm and collected person, excessive stress could cause you to get annoyed and irritated easily. If your rude behavior is very much not like you, you may be getting burnt out.

In that case, you should take steps to minimize burnout.

You must also validate your boss’s feelings and understand how your words hurt them. Commit to being more careful in how you express yourself and the tone of voice you use.

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How to Apologize to Your Boss for Unprofessional Behavior?

Unprofessional behavior could include using inappropriate language, acting unprofessionally to clients or customers, or even dating a coworker or hitting on your boss.

Show that you understand what was unprofessional about your behavior, and commit to changing the way you interact with others in the workplace.

How to Apologize to Your Boss for Not Showing Up?

It’s one thing to be late to work. Things happen – you might miss the bus, your Uber might have canceled on you (forcing you to order another one), you might have gotten stuck in traffic, or you may have simply overslept.

However, not showing up to work at all is a more severe matter, unless you were sick. If you took off from work because you were lazy or simply unmotivated to show up, and your job is now in jeopardy, you must apologize.

Accept responsibility for your mistake and promise to make up for it by working overtime and putting in extra hours. Assure your boss that it will never happen again.

How to Apologize to Your Boss for Missing a Meeting?

If you missed a meeting, it could be because you are bad at scheduling or prioritizing. If you forgot about the meeting, you might need to start using a journaling app.

Alternatively, if you simply couldn’t show up on time, you might need to get better at making your schedule work for you. For example, you need to start anticipating traffic conditions or other factors that could make you late.

You may also have missed the meeting due to social anxiety. In that case, having sessions with a therapist and forcing yourself to go out in public and meet people can help you get over your social fear.

In either case, it’s essential to show your boss the steps you are taking to ensure you won’t miss an important meeting again. Furthermore, you need to make things up to them in some way or another – perhaps by asking a coworker for their meeting notes so you can get up to speed on what was discussed.

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How to Apologize to Your Boss for Being late?

How to Apologize to Your Boss for Being late?

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Everyone is late from time to time. If you come late once or twice, your boss probably won’t make a big deal out of it.

However, if it happens frequently, you need to make some serious changes to your lifestyle.

Going to sleep earlier is one of the easiest ways to avoid being late on a consistent basis. It will allow you to wake up earlier, allowing yourself more time to get ready in the morning.

You might need to stop going out for drinks late at night or watching Netflix.

If you are coming late because the bus is often late, consider other forms of transportation. You might be able to use the subway instead or simply get your own bicycle or car.

How to Apologize to Your Boss for Being Sick?

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How to Apologize to Your Boss for Being Sick?

There’s usually no need to apologize for being sick. That’s out of your control, and it’s not something to worry about too much.

Your job will typically give you sick days. You should avoid using them unless you are actually sick because you never know when you will need them.

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How to Apologize to Your Boss for Missing a Deadline?

If you miss a deadline, you need to be better at prioritizing. Missing deadlines can mess with the productivity of your team, as it can prevent others from doing their jobs on time as well.

Promise to change by not procrastinating until the last few days or hours before something is due. When you get an assignment, be proactive about finishing it as soon as possible instead of spending your time on other things.

A little self-discipline goes a long way.

Wrapping It Up

Apologizing is never fun, but it’s important. It can be scary, but once you do it, and it’s over with, you will feel much better.

It might help to practice apologizing with a friend or relative before facing your boss in person.

At the end of the day, though, apologizing is about facing your fears and embracing humility.

About Author

Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.