The Professional Way To Handle Apologies And Forgiveness

Dr. Dawn Brown is a Child/Adult Psychiatrist and Serial Entrepreneur. She’s the CEO/Owner of ADHD Wellness Center & Mental Healthletics™.


We all make mistakes. When a mistake occurs in a professional setting, the best practice is to apologize and seek forgiveness, just as we would anywhere else. It’s not just the more mature action, but it can also be a crucial career move. 

Why Apologies And Forgiveness Matter In The Workplace

Conflict is simply inevitable when different people come together, but it can disrupt workflow and hamper cooperative functioning in the teams we work with. In workplaces made up of humans, disputes are bound to occur, but they don’t have to be a real problem as long as apologies and forgiveness are handled professionally. 

The Benefits Of An Apology

Apologies are important for rebuilding trust, strengthening workplace relationships and calming down a tense workplace situation. It may not be easy to give an apology, but it may be necessary. 

Most importantly, if you’ve made a mistake at work, it is your responsibility to take action and apologize, even if expecting the forgiveness of others is already out of the question. 

The Power Of Forgiveness

What if it’s your boss or co-worker who’s made a mistake or caused you harm? Your professional response can still be critical toward restoring the relationship, bringing productivity back up and relieving some of your own stress. 

While forgiveness can also be a tough challenge to take on, it is worth losing the resentment and avoiding the harm that holding grudges against co-workers can have on one’s own self. Forgiving can really be quite powerful and, along with apologies, shouldn’t be taken for granted. 

How To Provide A Professional Apology

But what is the best way to handle giving an apology in the workplace?

Surely, it isn’t enough to shrug your shoulders with a muttering of “sorry.” No, a genuine professional apology requires a bit more care and consideration to get it right. 

• Don’t overdo it. To start, know that not everything requires an apology. If you apologize for every little thing, your co-workers may begin to doubt your confidence. Being and appearing confident in the workplace can be a great advantage, so it’s not something you want to lose. You should be confident in the actions you take, even if you don’t always get them absolutely perfect. There’s no need to apologize for being flawed when trying your hardest. 

• Be on time with a “sorry.” Sometimes, however, the apology is a must, and we must not wait too long to give it. While it’s understandable to want to postpone the awkward interaction of admitting to and apologizing for a mistake, shuffling one’s feet here sends a bad message, just as never apologizing would. Get to saying it quickly if you want your “sorry” to really be powerful. 

• Keep it simple and sincere. When it comes time to give an apology, there’s no need to overthink it. Just two words — “I’m sorry” — can provide the most powerful message. Simplicity is the key, but that is not an excuse to brush off the real issue and rush through apologizing. Sincerity also matters, so you need to really consider how your words or actions impacted others and how you can account for your errors. 

• Take accountability. This just may be the most important element of a professional apology. This is where you go beyond mere words and truly show how you will repair any damage you’ve caused. Don’t give excuses when apologizing. Make sure to really show responsibility and make clear what steps you will take to make things right. 

How To Accept A Workplace Apology

When it’s another person who has something to make right, you may be faced with receiving an apology and deciding on forgiveness. 

Whenever someone else has slighted us, it can be difficult to continue seeing them in a positive light. But forgiveness is of such importance to a professional setting; it can be worth it to at least hear your co-worker out. 

• Hear them out. Apologizing can take a lot of courage, and it’s only respectful to allow a colleague to go through with the task if they’ve decided to take it on. Don’t interrupt or try to give your side of the story before they’ve finished. Just listen. Listening is especially needed since knowing what’s been said is required to give an appropriate response. 

• Respond with professionalism. When responding to a workplace apology, remember that you don’t actually have to offer full forgiveness. You simply must remain professional — no yelling or rude remarks. You can acknowledge that an apology doesn’t erase the harm done, but try to find a solution for building back the relationship yourself. Accepting a mistake with kindness can really help in achieving a better workplace for all. 

Find Acceptance

We can’t control other people — in our workplaces or anywhere else. We can’t make them forgive our mistakes, apologize for theirs or behave exactly as we’d like. We simply must accept these facts, and make our own decisions on how to respond. 

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