Managing Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry

No one likes to apologize. I mean… by definition, you’re only apologizing if you were in the wrong. And no one likes to be wrong. No one likes to make a mistake. It’s not fun. It’s humbling. And it makes us uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, saying you’re sorry is a fairly consistent part of life. You have to do it all the time –  in your professional life and in your personal life, so you might as well accept that and get good at it now.  

No one likes to apologize because—big surprise—no one likes to be wrong or make a mistake.

But saying sorry, especially as a manager, is necessary to build and foster trust. Don’t avoid doing it. Instead–keep reading for tips on how to make it as painless as possible while also making it authentic.

It’s a fact that we all make mistakes. However, not everyone says they’re sorry. Some people just can’t bring themselves to admit it when they get something wrong. Don’t be that person. Your employees are looking to their managers, to you, to be role models, and when you develop a sense of trust and responsibility with your team, they will do the same with each other and with clients. So, if you do something wrong, admit it. Here’s how:

Tip #1: Look at the person. 

If you avoid eye contact when saying sorry, it deflates the value of the words. Be honest, be personal and don’t hide. Look directly at the employee when you’re apologizing. 

Tip #2: Use the words “I’m sorry” 

When you apologize, you use the words I’m sorry. Don’t beat around the bush or try to apologize in a roundabout way. Just two words: I’m sorry. And, no, “I’m sorry you didn’t like what I did.” or “I’m sorry you were offended.” do not count as an apology. Don’t put the onus of the wrong-doing on the person you’re apologizing to. They didn’t do anything wrong, you did. “I did this thing, and I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry.”

Tip #3: Stop and listen.  

Now it’s time to shut up and allow the employee to talk. Don’t interrupt and don’t play the blame game. You made a mistake and now it’s time to allow the employee to speak. And really listen to what they’re saying. Don’t nod along as they speak if you’re actually thinking about the next task you have to do or what you’re going to binge on Netflix over the weekend. You did something wrong, and you owe your employee your attention. Listen to what they’re saying, and take it in. Take what they say to heart and try to determine what you can do in the future to prevent making the same mistake again. 

Tip #4: Remember that the intent doesn’t justify the action.

We all do or say things that have the opposite effect than what we desire. Instead of saying “I didn’t mean to do that” or “That wasn’t my intent,” just say you’re sorry and then stay quiet. If you said or did something that caused your employee to be offended, or to make a mistake of their own based on your bad information or bad instructions, you need to own that. 

And learn from your mistakes—just like you want your team members to do. You set the standards in your department, so you can’t expect your team members to own their behavior and apologize when they’re wrong if you don’t do it first.