1. What is an apology letter/ email?
An apology letter or email is a physical or virtual statement you write and send to a coworker affected by something you said or did.
When considering writing an effective apology for your mistake, you should acknowledge what you did wrong, express remorse, ask for forgiveness, and promise to learn from your mistake.
Apology letters in the workplace create a permanent record of your wrongdoing and, most importantly, of your attempt to rectify it.
Acknowledging a mistake professionally is a vital soft skill. Employees who fix their errors are valuable members of every team.
When you send a meaningful apology letter to someone, it shows that you care about their feelings and try to restore the mutual respect between the two of you.
“One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting apologies. Apologies can heal humiliations and grudges, remove the desire for vengeance, and generate forgiveness on the part of the offended parties. (...) The result of that apology process, ideally, is the reconciliation and restoration of broken relationships.” On Apology - Aaron Lazare.
2. When should you write an apology letter?
An apology letter or email has a significant value when your actions or words may have hurt another human being.
Whether you want to say sorry to a friend, partner, or colleague, an apology email is like a bridge over troubled waters.
There are countless workplace mistakes; some depend on the employees’ personalities, ineffective communication, or not knowing the company culture.
Here are the most common mistakes that require an apology email in the work environment:
- Apology for being late to work
- Apology for missing a meeting
- Apology for skipping a deadline
- Apology for sending documents late
- Apology email for forgetting a task
- Apology for delaying the answer to an email
- Apology email for not sending or sending the wrong attachment
- Apology for misspelling in an email
- Apology for ambiguous communication.
3. How to write an apology letter?
At some point in our lives, we all hurt someone, directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally.
In their book The 5 Apology Languages, Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas describe five steps towards true healing of a personal or professional relationship.
Step 1 Express regret
If you are in front of a white page trying to craft an apology letter, you know why you are sorry. The first sentence of your letter should be about expressing your regret, followed by an explanation of what you have done wrong. Acknowledge your mistake and its consequences, and apologize unconditionally. Exhibiting remorse at the beginning of your letter shows you are sincere and respectful.
Step 2 Make restitution
The second step is to write down a way to improve the situation. Be specific about the steps you intend to take to do everything you can to make the matter right. Describing your plan demonstrates to your recipient that you have thought seriously about how you can improve things. Finding solutions shows your willingness to learn and make peace.
Step 3 Request their forgiveness
Your letter should continue with a specific attempt at fixing things between you and your recipient. This step involves a direct request for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness demonstrates that you understand that you hurt or disappoint your coworker.
Step 4 Accept responsibility
Accepting responsibility for your wrongdoing is critical in the apology letter/ email. Being honest about your mistake shows the recipient that you understand your error and how its consequences may have affected them. It validates their feelings and makes them feel valuable to you.
Step 5 Plan for change
Conclude your letter with a reassertion of your desire to rebuild your relationship. Seal your letter with the assurance that you have learned your lesson and the promise that you will do everything in your power to avoid similar situations in the future.
Tips for writing an apology letter:
If you are writing an impersonal letter just because your boss told you, your recipient will feel your lack of sincerity. Do a mental labor and try to understand how your mistake may have hurt the recipient’s feelings. Start from this perspective and express your sincerest apologies.
Keep your apology letter concise. Use simple language, limit your word count and avoid over-blaming yourself. A genuine apology letter should not take more than a few sentences to acknowledging your mistake, say sorry, make restitution, and ask for forgiveness.
When writing a workplace apology email, keep your professionalism. Be accountable, own your mistakes, learn, and move forward.
What to avoid when apologizing in an email?
It is challenging to remain objective when you write an apology letter, regardless of knowing it is the right thing to do. Here are some valuable tips on what to avoid when fixing something broken by writing an authentic apology letter:
Self-pity: Using statements like, “I’m such an idiot,” is a selfish approach to the situation. You continue to talk about yourself and your feelings. It takes the focus away from the recipient’s experience. You are manipulating them to support and reassure you and miss the opportunity to own up to your mistake.
Assigning blame: If you want to apologize from your heart, you must avoid playing the blame game. Writing something like, “If you had checked the numbers more thoroughly, I wouldn’t have sent the project so late,” puts the responsibility on the recipient’s shoulders. Writing an apology letter or email is not about one’s blame. Instead, use this occasion to learn and grow personally and professionally.
False apologies: Saying that “People make mistakes” is not apologizing. This statement exonerates you and invalidates the feelings of the other party. Acknowledge your guilt and fix the broken link.
Long-winded explanations: The first sentence of your apology email/ letter should express your remorse, followed by an explanation of what you have done wrong. And this is where the explanations should end. Otherwise, it may look like you are justifying the situation to avoid fault. The point of your apology letter is to apologize, not to explain yourself.
Passive-aggressive tone: Writing down something like “I’m sorry you felt resentful” doesn’t show that you regret your mistake. It shows you are rather sorry that you have to deal with the consequence of your action.
|EFFECTIVE LANGUAGE||WHY IT WORKS|
|I’m sorry I yelled at you during the meeting. This project has been very challenging for me, but that’s no excuse for my behavior. I appreciate you, and I like working with you. I will do my best to control my anger.||Takes responsibility for the mistake. It explains why the mistake happened, expresses remorse and respect, and promises reparation.|
|I missed my deadline. I apologize for this mistake. It will never happen again. How can I make it up to you?||Describes the wrongdoing and takes responsibility. It makes the person feel cared for and asks about steps to fix the error.|
|INEFFECTIVE LANGUAGE||WHY WILL IT NOT WORK|
|I apologize for whatever upsets you.||Language is vague and doesn’t acknowledge or take responsibility for the wrongdoing.|
|Mistakes are made all the time.||The use of passive voice avoids taking responsibility.|
|Fine, I apologize if it is so important to you.||It is passive-aggressive and sounds grudging. Blaming the offended person for being too sensitive.|
4. Examples of an apology letter
Let me be clear: crafting a professional apology letter or email is not the easiest thing to do at work. Take a few deep breaths to ditch the discomfort of saying “I am sorry” to your boss, colleague, or customer, and check and get inspired by our examples of apology emails.
Apologizing for being late at work
Whether you slept too much or dealt with a personal emergency, missing work affects your team morale.
Subject line: I am sorry
Please accept my sincerest apology for missing the meeting with our client today. Unfortunately, my car broke down while commuting. Such situations had never happened before, and I failed to allow myself extra time for emergencies.
I know I disappointed you and our client and that my tardiness may cost us.
I promise that going forward, I will leave home even earlier than I do, so I can arrive on time, despite any emergencies or obstacles I meet.
I wrote an apology email to our client to express my regret and ask to rearrange the meeting at their earliest convenience.
Please accept my heartfelt apologies. It will not happen again.
Apologizing for a mistake at work
You are writing an apology letter because you made a mistake at work. But remember: your mistakes do not define you.
Subject line: My sincerest apologies
I want to express my sincerest regrets for deleting two slides from your presentation from yesterday morning. I received bad news from the hospital where my father is hospitalized, and I lost my focus.
I already sent an email to Dan, and I told him that was exclusively my mistake, not yours. I have also requested five days from my PTO to take care of my personal issues so they won’t interfere with my job.
Please forgive me! I understand my error made you look unprepared, and I am terribly sorry.
Trust me: I have learned my lesson. I will do everything in my power to avoid this kind of situation.
Apologizing to a boss
Subject line: My sincerest apology
I want to sincerely apologize for my underperformance at work last week. I failed to deliver the expected results on time and missed my deadline. There are a lot of challenges in my personal life that have affected me.
I know you are disappointed for not living up to the team’s standard. I can assure you that is not who I really am.
Things are settling down in my personal life. I have also applied for work-life balance training, where I will learn more about the techniques that help me separate my personal from my professional life.
Please forgive my behavior! I fully understand how my poor performance affects you and the entire team.
I love what I do and being a member of your team. From now on, I will learn faster and work harder to show you that I am a reliable, trustworthy team member.
Apologizing to a coworker
Subject line: It was a mistake on my side
I am very sorry for the way I behaved yesterday. I was very excited about completing our project earlier. Instead of waiting for you to return to the office, I went to Emily and told her about our accomplishments.
I know how disappointing my behavior is. I will write an apology email to Emily to tell her that it was a mistake going to her office without you.
I can imagine you feel like I took all the credit for our hard work, which was my mistake.
Please forgive me!
You are an excellent colleague from day 1 when you joined our team. I love working with you. I will do everything to regain your trust.
Apology letter to a customer for a mistake
Dear [Customer Name],
I am writing this letter to apologize for our mistake on [date] in [location or service provided]. We understand that our mistake has caused inconvenience to you, and we are deeply sorry for that.
At [Company Name], we strive to provide excellent customer service, and it is disappointing when we fall short of our own standards. We take full responsibility for the error and want to assure you that we are taking steps to ensure that it does not happen again.
We value you as our customer and would like to make things right. Please let us know how we can rectify the situation and make it up to you. We are committed to finding a solution that meets your satisfaction.
Once again, we apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused and appreciate your patience and understanding. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Apologizing to a client
Subject line: Apology for the mistake at my end.
Dear Mr. Smith,
I am very sorry for the problems I have caused you by sending you a User Manual for a different product. Yesterday we had some technical issues. Instead of waiting to be solved, I sent you the wrong document.
Please refer to the User Manual attached to this email. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
I understand you were very disappointed you couldn’t use your product as soon as you received it. Please forgive me for my mistake.
At our company, we value our customers very much. I can assure you that this was an error that won’t repeat.
5. The importance of writing a professional apology letter or email
Mistaking is easy.
On the other hand, apologizing is hard and admitting our wrongdoings is even more challenging,
Still, we all make mistakes sometimes, so it is crucial to master the art of saying sorry. A well-crafted apology letter proves your professionalism and commitment to fixing what has been broken.
Apologies are vital in every situation when we make a mistake, including in the workplace.
A timely and on-point apology letter or email is an excellent tool to improve communication. It helps build a healthy, trustworthy relationship between team members.
Whatever mistake you have made, don’t let it grow and become chronic. An apology letter proves you learn from your mistakes and are more prepared for future challenges.