Anatomy of an Apology:  Video Version

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in both my personal and professional life and as such have had to get good at apologizing. Additionally, whether it was when running my own businesses or working with clients, I have consistently found the lack of quality apologies to be one of most disruptive and corrosive influences on team culture.

This lack can, in part be attributed to ego and a reluctance to be vulnerable, or even a lack of awareness. However, I honestly believe one of the major reasons we don’t apologize is that we simply don’t know how. While each situation is certainly unique, I have found that following the 10 steps outlined below will help strengthen rather than weaken your team when mistakes are made.


Spend a little time thinking about it. Asking friends about it. Solution centric not gossip. How would I want to be apologized to?

Genuine Remorse:
Do I genuine feel badly for what I have done? Do I wish I had do it differently?  If you would have done the same thing given the same situation and people are upset with you, you may have a teamwork, leadership or communication issue to sort out but you don’t owe an apology.

Apologize not Sorry:
Sorry has become a throwaway word that has too many different meanings and in the context of helping restore relationships, has no meaning. Also, to apologize implies something I am doing rather than something I am. I am taking the action of apologizing I am not taking on the identity of being sorry it implies a progress. Nuanced but important. If I am sorry, when do I stop being sorry?

Considerate Timing:
Surprise attack apologies tend to go poorly.  Be considerate of their time and the surroundings.

Start with “I would like to apologize.”:
Getting started is the hardest part. Good icebreaker and helps me from chickening out.

Specific Not horrific:
Don’t apologize in generalities.”I’m sorry, I haven’t been at my best lately.” Provide specifics, but don’t reenact the situation.“I want to apologize for the disrespect I showed you and your team at yesterday’s meeting.”

No Mention Their Part: There is zero mention of their part nor anything you feel they did or other circumstances that may have contributed to causing the situation.“I apologize, but you were really pushing my buttons” “I apologize, but I was having a terrible day.” If you bring up their part it is not an apology it is an explanation.

No Qualifiers:
Apologies do not include the words IF or BUT. “I apologize if you were offended.”, “I apologize, but you had it coming? “

Anything I can do:
“Is there anything I can do to make this situation right?” Used judgment. Wide range of experience with this concept. May suggest something..  Would it help if I acknowledged by mistake at the next staff meeting.

Don’t worry about it:
We take them at their word the matter has been resolved or was never an issue to begin with. If it becomes clear that the situation is still an issue, still need to talk. Was there anything I missed or something you would like to say on the subject.

Accepting Apology:
Use accept my apology rather than forgive. Forgive freaks people out. Don’t ask for forgiveness on the spot. Give them time to consider what you have said and perhaps come up with ways for you to rectify the situation.  If they choose to take time to consider the matter, the responsibility falls to you to follow up and not let the issue linger. Use judgement regarding the relationship and the individual on how to follow up. If relationship seems I appreciate how gracious you have been.”Hey I wanted to see if you had a chance to consider what we talked about and if there is anything you need to say you were willing to forgive me?” If they choose to forgive you, you have the right to completely remove the situation as a negative influence on your relationship.And, if you’ve followed the steps and principles outlined above, chances are that your relationship with this individual and the overall cohesion of the team is stronger. If any of this seems like it will feel incredibly awkward, that is probably because it will.  Apologizing is a skill and just like learning any other skill it will feel uncomfortable at first.  Chances are the first time you swung a golf club, asked for a raise or started a new job it was awkward.  But the more you did it, the more comfortable it became. So as someone who has make a lot of apologies, I strongly encourage you to consider the framework above the next time you put your foot in your mouth.

I would love to hear any critiques, additions or suggestions you may have from your own experience.  Feel free to email them As always, I hope this was helpful. Sam