Made A Mistake? 6 Steps To Apologise Properly

Everybody makes mistakes. It’s a fact of life. Some will be huge mistakes (ones that change the course of your life). Others will be small mistakes (think spelling errors and forgetting to return a call).

Depending on the size of the mistake and who else was involved, you may find yourself far enough in the dog-house to warrant an apology. (If you haven’t read it already, here’s a previous post concerning how I apologised for something over a decade after I did it!)

And even if you’re thinking, “Aw, the mistake wasn’t that big a deal – I’ll just let things lie,” you may still want to consider saying “Sorry” because…

Leaving someone with a negative impression of your brand is daft, especially when you consider:

a) they may pass that negative impression on to others, damaging your personal brand further and
b) the act of apologising can, in itself, create a positive impression of your brand.

How do you apologise effectively?

Knowing what to say without sounding like a sniveling weasel can be hard, but thanks to research conducted by Professor Roy Lewicki from Ohio State University, there’s a formula you can use to increase the chance your apology will hit the spot. It involves six elements that you can mix and match, though the study showed the more you use, the more effective your apology will be:

The 6 elements of an effective apology

1. Acknowledge your responsibility

The most important element, it can be something as simple as, “It was absolutely my fault”.

2. Offer amends

This was the second most important element – saying how you’re going to fix the situation.

3. Express regret

Tell the person you’re sorry.

4. Explain what went wrong

If you’re taking the apology further, you can also set the scene for what happened.

5. Declare repentance

Assure the person the same mistake won’t happen again.

6. Ask for forgiveness

Check the other person is happy with the apology. (However, the study showed this is the least important element, so it can be left out.)

Tried and tested

I recently had cause to use the formula after a sticky situation with a client and have to say, it really helped. I wrote out what I wanted to say in each element, learnt the basic structure off by heart, then delivered the apology in a natural way.

Instead of including #6 though (while the apology was sincere, I felt there was fault on both sides, so asking forgiveness would have been a step too far) I ended with a reiteration of #3.

It’s worth noting, however, that you don’t want to say “Sorry” more than twice, as it can end up sounding trite and therefore insincere.

So the next time you make a mistake that requires an apology…make sure it’s done properly.

I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below to let me know your advice for apologising properly (plus share some examples of where it has or hasn’t worked if you really want to give others your insight!) Thanks.

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