Should you ever say sorry at work?

As I said to my boss recently, sometimes we all decide to use an attention-grabbing byline.  Of course you should say sorry at work, just as much as you should at home, or on the street when someone bumps into you (OK, the latter is just a quirk of the British character!)

So back to the topic of saying sorry in the workplace.  For some inexplicable reason, saying “sorry” really is the hardest word.  As human beings, we struggle to admit defeat, or worse, erroneous behaviour.  But a key part of learning is to accept you were wrong, and acknowledge it to those impacted.

In our personal lives, we learn to say sorry from an early age. “Say sorry to your brother for hitting him“, our parents bemoan.  Apologies come with a petulant lip and a grudging sigh.  We don’t want to say sorry, but we are coerced to “do the right thing“.  As we mature, we learn right from wrong, and we learn to “own our mistakes“.  It’s not easy, but we learn to say sorry.

In the workplace, many people adopt a whole new approach.  Saying sorry, acknowledging a wrong decision or accepting that we did not do the right thing becomes a battleground.  Those who are apologise are weak, they give in, and they will never succeed.  Some businesses encourage a culture of cover up (think about how many industry-wide scandals we’ve seen in the last decade), whilst others stifle dissent in an almost dictatorial way (even the term “whistle-blower” has negative connotations.)  But deep down, we know that owning up to our mistakes is the right thing to do.  More and more businesses adopting the “fail often, fail  fast” mantra, accepting that not every action will lead to success, BUT every action should lead to learning.  So at long last, the world of business has embraced the fact the to err is human.  So the next time you realise you’ve made a mistake in the workplace, here’s three quick tips to fixing the situation.

Understand the impact – In the business world, the impact of any issue can be far reaching.  An issue that you caused can touch multiple areas – internal and customer.  When you identify an issue, by understanding the impact that this caused, you apology will be more sincere and better received.

Own it! – Human nature will often drive us to pull others into our errors. “I know I messed up, but if Bob hadn’t done X, I would never have made that mistake.”  WRONG! Irrespective of Bob’s issues, you made a mistake, so be responsible and take ownerships of the impact.  Sure, there may be a separate conversation to be had with Bob about his issue, but don’t dilute your apology by trying to deflect from what you did wrong.

Move on – OK, so you caused an issue, you’ve done your apologies, you’ve helped make changes, so now it’s time to move on!!  Don’t dwell on the past – we all make mistakes, and good businesses will support their people through such times.  Once you’ve done the apology, reflect on the considerable amount of successful tasks you have delivered and apply the learns to deliver even more.

Saying sorry isn’t difficult. No-one looses face when they acknowledge a flaw.  For every mistake you make, you do 99 things brilliantly, so if you are hesitating about making that workplace apology, come on, show the humility that make you the great person you truly are!


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