Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes involve our work.
Maybe you didn’t meet the deadline, messed up a project, or did something wrong; whatever the reason, it’s necessary to properly apologize if you want to maintain a good working relationship.
So, how do you make an apology letter that will actually make things better?
Here are a few examples, as shared by experts:
Criminal Defense and Family Law Lawyer, Soyars & Morgan Law
At some point in your career, you may find yourself making a mistake in the workplace that could have been avoided. It’s best to address these situations head-on and apologize to your management or boss.
Begin your letter with your sincerest apology
It is best to be as precise and detailed as possible about the incident, showing that you are fully aware that your behavior was unacceptable.
Acknowledge that what you have done negatively impacts the company. An example of this could look like:
“Please accept my sincerest apology for my continued tardiness during this past month of June. My poor time management has affected my punctuality, and I know how negatively this reflects on the company.”
Take full responsibility for your part in the incident
Be sure to own up to whatever has happened and not make any excuses or place the blame on another person.
An example may be:
“I take full responsibility for my lack of punctuality. I have continued not giving myself enough time to account for variables on my commute that are outside my control, like traffic or weather.
I understand that when I continue to be tardy, I make you and the whole company look poorly. I understand I am the only one to blame in this situation.”
Explain how you will improve
Tell your boss that this incident will never happen again and explain to them the specific change you will make to ensure it.
An example may be:
“I want to clarify that this will be the last time that this happens. It is of the utmost importance to me that I hold myself to the same high standards that allotted me the opportunity to work with this company.
Moving forward, I will leave 20 minutes earlier to ensure I always arrive before my scheduled shift.”
Invite their opinion and apologize in person
Explain that you are remorseful of your actions and are willing to hear any personal feedback regarding the situation. Additionally, explain that you would like to find a time to speak with them in person to apologize.
“I am very embarrassed by my behavior and that my actions have led to us receiving a poor review. If you have any other suggestions for me to succeed better and avoid this in the future, I welcome further feedback.
I hope there will be a time today that we are both free so I may make a formal apology face to face.”
Ultimately, mistakes happen, but addressing them with an apology letter is a good way to ensure there is no lingering animosity at your place of work. It will show your commitment to improving and being a better team member of the company.
Trainer, Speaker, and Coach | Community Builder, The Dialogue Company
Apologizing is a tricky business. Sometimes, you know something is amiss but cannot exactly put your finger on it. Or you make a mistake that is called to your attention. Or worse, you are called out in public. Now, you need to apologize, but apologies are really tricky.
Admitting fault makes us vulnerable. Being embarrassed makes us mad. When we make a mistake at work, the stakes can be even higher, especially if we want to stay employed.
But the recipe for an effective apology at work is not that different from any other apology when we want to recover a relationship and even rebuild it with more trust and deeper understanding.
Here are a few things to focus on:
Be empathetic and honest
There is no point in apologizing if you cannot see from your boss’s point of view that a mistake was made. Get out of your head and into theirs.
What is the problem with what you said or did? If you are unclear, seek clarification, perhaps from a trusted coworker, friend, or professional coach. Be honest about the role you played in the situation.
Focus on your impact, not your intentions
If you disagree with your boss that what you did was wrong, apologize anyway. Yes, this is true whether you are in a disagreement with a boss or a friend, or a lover.
Apologize with humility that your impact was out of balance with your intentions. Focus on the fact that your intentions are less important than your impact. The mistake lies in the impact.
Focus on your impact, not your intentions. Asking questions about your impact and apologizing for your (even if unintended but real) impact will go a long way in healing any relationship.
Approaching an apology from this perspective will show that you are willing to learn and grow. You will be grounded in humility, which makes staying mad at you more difficult.
Related: How to Be More Humble
Stand in your dignity
Honesty brings dignity. Always be as honest as possible while still using discretion. Remember, there is nothing inherently wrong with making a mistake.
“To err is human.” How we deal with our errors is what defines who we are. As you discern what is true about the situation, remember that facts and feelings are different. They both matter, but usually, when teasing out mistakes and apologies, feelings matter first.
Attend to your feelings before trying to attend to the people’s feelings. If you feel defensive or angry about your boss’s reaction to something you did, take the time to cool down.
Center yourself. Be clear about what outcome you want. Do you want to reconcile or run? If you want to reconcile, then own your role in the problem. Start with that.
Finally, apologies should never be transactional. If you apologize, expecting one in return, you will almost always end up feeling disappointed and frustrated.
While writing an apology is a great first step, you should be ready and willing to have an open conversation about the incident.
Engaging in a dialogue rooted in:
- and honesty
is the best way to build a strong working relationship.
Use the actual words of an apology
You can say, “I apologize,” or “I am sorry.” Or my personal favorite, “I am sorry, I messed up.“
Note the phrase, “I am sorry you feel bad“—that is not an apology. Instead, say, “I’m sorry I messed up the interaction with that customer.“
Keep the message clear of “buts” and excuses
To sound professional and speak with integrity, you must keep your message clear and free of the “buts.” So don’t say, “I’m sorry, but I had to take that phone call during the meeting. It was really important.“
Be careful of making excuses
Instead, give a clean, heartfelt apology. But, if there is an excuse, use this magic phrasing:
“I am sorry, I messed up. There is a reason, and I would like to talk to you about it at some point, but the most important thing for you to know now is that I am sorry.”
If the person is calm and rational, they will immediately ask you why. If they are emotional, angry, and upset, they are not ready to hear and discuss it now and may not care. But you have left an opening to talk about it later.
Ensure your body language send the same message as your words
For example, your tone will tell the tale if you are not feeling respectful towards your boss. Ensure your:
- facial expressions
- body language
send the same message as your words
Show your regret. As I said, people will complain until they see you get their pain. Some people will not fully accept an apology unless they know you have suffered too. I don’t mean that meanly—just know that pain for pain can make a conflict disappear.
Come right out and say you are sorry or ashamed.
- Say: “I felt bad the minute I said that. I’m ashamed of myself.
- Don’t say: “This isn’t like me.” Or “What I did is not who I am.”
If you did it, it is your behavior. It just doesn’t have to be you moving forward.
Take the heat and listen to their pain
This is the most challenging part. After you say you’re sorry, you need to stop and listen to hear the person share their pain and anger.
Take action and repair the damage
To be complete, an apology must correct the injury. If you said something in writing to a client or customer or vendor, or fellow team member, fix it by asking the boss if they would like you to share in person on the phone or email an apology admitting your mistake.
If the damage isn’t obvious, ask, “What can I do to make it up to you?” There may be nothing concrete you can do, but the offer must be sincere:
Decide what you can do and tell the person. “The next meeting, I will wait and listen when you speak and not interrupt and criticize my teammate publicly and know I will be more aware going forward.“
Say your commitments out loud to your boss. For example, you won’t:
- be late next time
- no longer take cell phone calls during a meeting
- will redo the report as quickly as possible
Try to avoid the word “try.” The statement, “I’ll try not to be late,” says lame. It will make you sound like a teenager. If you don’t know what to do, if there is nothing concrete for you, or you’re not sure what you thought of is enough, ask, “What can I do to make this up to you?“
Following these steps can soften a hurt, prevent you from carrying a burden of guilt, and can go a long way to living your life in integrity.
SVP of People and Workplace, Snagajob
Be specific, so they know you’re taking this seriously
Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes those happen at work. But what happens when that mistake is a material one? Maybe you missed an important deadline or were rude to a customer or colleague.
You know you were in the wrong, but how do you repair the damage that might be done? One of the most powerful tools at your disposal is one that’s totally in your control—an apology.
A genuine apology can go a long way, especially when it’s your boss that you need to mend fences with. These conversations aren’t always comfortable but can go a long way in rebuilding your credibility and your relationship with your manager.
Here are some tips to make sure that it’s effective:
Acknowledge your mistake
First, it’s essential to let your boss know that you understand what went wrong. Acknowledge what happened—don’t try to make excuses or blame someone else. Keep it short and to the point.
Recognize the impact
Even if you had the best intentions, ultimately, the impact of the mistake is what you’re left to deal with.
It’s fine to say what caused the issue; maybe you were:
- or too excited and in a hurry,
- or not paying attention,
but don’t dwell on that. Instead, reflect on the impact of the mistake so your boss knows you understand why this can’t happen again.
If you can, suggest a remedy
Sometimes, there’s an opportunity to set things right. Maybe it’s reshipping an order, correcting a report, or fixing a schedule. If that’s the case, then offer up a solution and volunteer to do it.
If that’s not the case, maybe the customer you got upset with has already left, or an order’s been canceled—you should move on.
Learn from it
Your boss must know you understand what went wrong so it won’t happen again. Mention what you’ll do differently in the future to avoid this happening, and be specific so they know you’re taking this seriously.
Since this can be a complicated conversation, writing out what you want to say ahead of time is beneficial.
You may not always have time to do this; apologizing quickly is really important, but if you do, the conversation could go something like this:
“Hi, Jane. I want to apologize for messing up the large catering order this morning. I didn’t read the order accurately, and the wrong food was delivered.
I know now to double-check the order before I set it up for delivery, and I will implement a system to ensure I’m organized and marking off items as they’re made and packed.
Thank you for understanding and allowing me to improve.”
Apologizing can be complicated and uncomfortable, but doing it well can go a long way to ensure a mistake doesn’t impact your work or credibility in the long term.
Founder & Executive Director, Professionals In Transition®
Discuss key factors behind your decision
The dynamics of an apology letter to your boss are complex because:
- Admitting a mistake in writing is both awkward and embarrassing.
- It becomes a permanent written part of your HR records and, if not carefully worded, could come back and haunt you.
- It could be particularly difficult if there were related business actions controlled by others that directly impacted your decision.
- It can be a real challenge if you were following your boss’s direction and are now being blamed for the outcome.
- It may be accomplished more effectively by meeting with your boss and apologizing in person.
This gives you:
- The chance for your boss to see and “feel” your apology and rebuild rapport.
- An opportunity to explain your logic for the decision.
- Discuss other people, circumstances, or other departments involved.
- Document what you learned and what you’ve already done to fix the problem created by your decision.
If, after considering all of the factors above, you still feel compelled to write an apology letter, you can follow the steps below:
- Keep it brief and to the point.
- Lead with your apology.
- Discuss key factors behind your decision.
- Don’t blame others.
- Talk about what you learned.
- Discuss what you did to fix it.
- Next steps.
- New procedure for the future.
Acknowledgment is the first step
So you have messed up…now what?
Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes it is hard to know what to do when you cause an error in the workplace.
Although it can be highly intimidating to have to apologize to your boss in person or writing, here are some effective strategies you can utilize. The goal is always to:
- Acknowledge your error
- Explain your thought process (without it sounding like excuses)
- Explain what you have learned
- Highlight what you will do to correct the mistake (take a course, ask for coaching, etc.)
- Thank them for their understanding and willingness to help you grow in the area
“Dear [Manager’s Name],
It has come to my attention that the report I submitted to you via email on Wednesday, July 6th contained errors in its data.
Although I did recheck the numbers before submitting it, I failed to recognize that there was a second financial report that also needed to be included in the data collection.
As a result, my calculations were not correct. I have recalculated all of the data and reattached the new edited report in this email. I greatly apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. I take great pride in my work and was frustrated to learn that I missed such a critical piece of data.
I have now instituted a new checklist I will utilize moving forward to ensure that I contact each branch and obtain their data before completing my reports.
Thank you for the opportunity to be involved in this important project work. I assure you I will not allow this type of error to occur again.
Managing Director, Tier2Tek Staffing
Reflect on the situation from all perspectives
When writing the letter, you need to:
- Reflect on the situation from all perspectives
- Develop a short outline of the letter
- Keep a professional tone
- Acknowledge the mistake and provide an improvement plan
- Follow through on your improvement plan
“Subject: Letter of Apology
I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your feedback regarding [situation]. I can see why you felt this way and how it can impact our overall bottom line.
I have taken time to reflect on the situation and would like to work together to improve [the situation]. I respect your advice and would like to develop a roadmap for success.
Please accept my apologies for my [shortcomings] as I sincerely regret the situation. Moreover, I have reached out to other members of the team and have personally apologized.
Here are a few action items I have identified regarding an improvement plan. I look forward to additional recommendations you may have.
[provide attainable goals to your shortcomings. ]
(Shortcoming example: “missing a meeting“)
- Set alarms on all calendars (Office email client/outlook, iPhone, etc.).
- Review the calendar every morning and have a color-coded sticky reminder for each meeting
- Set an old-school alarm clock on my desk for each meeting
Thank you for taking the time to read my apology. I take this very seriously and am committed to improving and exceeding your expectations.
HR and Business Specialist, Step By Step Business
Keeping a formal tone is critical
When writing an apology letter to a supervisor or manager, it’s important to remain professional and succinct. Even if you have a great relationship with them, keeping a more formal tone is critical, as written documentation is often kept on record.
Before writing your letter, it’s also best to try to have an in-person discussion about what happened, so you both have a chance to process things and feel comfortable moving forward.
A video or phone call is always a great substitute if you work remotely and an in-person conversation isn’t possible. Mention in your discussion that you’ll follow up with a formal note to close the loop.
As a follow-up to our recent conversation, I’m providing you with a written apology to close the loop regarding (insert details about the situation at hand).
I am aware that what happened was unacceptable and am committed to making sure it doesn’t happen again. I am also willing to (provide an actionable solution).
I appreciate your understanding and willingness to discuss this matter with me and for the opportunity to improve.
Founder, Express Dentist
State the facts and keep it brief
Begin by apologizing for your actions. Taking responsibility for your mistakes is crucial and showing that you’re genuinely sorry for what you did. Let your boss know that you understand the gravity of the situation and the impact your actions had on the company.
Explain the situation surrounding the incident—no need to go into a long, drawn-out explanation of what happened. Just state the facts and keep it brief.
If there’s anything you can do to rectify the situation, offer it up
This shows that you’re not just sorry for what happened but also willing to take action to prevent it from happening again.
Assure your boss that it won’t happen again. No one wants to work with people making the same mistake repeatedly. So reassure your boss that you’ve learned from your mistake and it won’t happen again.
Lastly, thank your boss for their time. Show appreciation for your boss taking the time to address the issue. This shows that you understand the importance of their role in the company and that you value their time.
Here’s an example of an apology letter to a boss:
“Dear [Manager’s Name],
I sincerely apologize for failing to meet my deadlines on the project. Unfortunately, I became complacent and didn’t realize how behind I was until it was too late. I take full responsibility for the mishaps in the project. I understand the gravity of my actions and the impact they had on the company.
Following a huddle with my team, we devised a plan to get the project back on track. I’ll be working around the clock to complete the project as soon as possible. Again, I sincerely apologize that my actions did not match the company’s standards.
In the future, I will be more diligent in meeting my deadlines and communicating with the team more effectively to avoid any delays. I am fully committed to making things right and regaining your trust.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I value your guidance and leadership in the company.
Richard J. Brandenstein
Attorney and FBR Law partner, Fusco, Brandenstein & Rada, P.C.
Recognize your wrongdoing and understand why it’s questionable
My perspective comes from my experience as someone who has written such letters and an employer who received them.
Being the boss
As a boss, your employees might act out in certain situations, depending on what they have done, but acting with your permission can be a valuable characteristic in an employee.
The employees who seek approval after the fact, rather than permission, are likely the employees who will do well.
The lawyer who acts without permission to resolve a case can be more valuable than one who won’t act without permission; the latter could equally lose you a case.
What I seek from the former is a recognition of their wrongdoing and an understanding of why their actions are perceived as questionable. The attorney needs to recognize they are representing a firm, a certain ethical code, and their apology should reflect this to me.
Being the employee
With this in mind, again, depending on what you have done, try not to be so self-deprecating.
If you haven’t broken any serious rules or violated your contract, if you feel your decision was justified, then you should state your case. However, never undermine your boss or show a lack of respect for the necessary systems and hierarchy in place.
They need to know you are sorry for risking your relationship with them and the company and that you are aware of your duty to represent the company your boss is a major part of.
Showing you understand your actions could have reflected badly on your boss is likely what they want to understand. Taking care to write the actual letter can show this.
Head of People, PhotoAiD
Remember that it’s not just a “get out of jail free” card
Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight: An apology letter to your boss is not an excuse. It’s not a “get out of jail free” card to be used whenever you feel like you made a mistake.
In fact, it should be used sparingly and only when you have genuinely messed up at work.
Maybe you made an honest mistake that impacted your team or company in a negative way. Perhaps you let your emotions get the best of you and acted unprofessionally. If you find yourself in such a situation, an apology letter to your boss is necessary.
Here’s an example in some hypothetical context:
First off, I wanted to apologize for my absence last week. I know a lot of things needed to be done, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there to help.
Second, I want to apologize for how I handled the situation with the Smith account. I know I made a mistake, and I’m truly sorry.
Lastly, I want to say sorry for everything—for being a pain, for being late, and for anything else I might have done wrong. I know that an apology doesn’t fix everything, but hopefully, it’s a start.
CEO and Founder, Bullseye Locations
It’s not uncommon to send your supervisor an apology letter. As a business owner, I have received many apology letters, some of which are so thoughtfully written that they have really impressed me.
Employees will inevitably make mistakes of some form, whether it is misconduct or damage to the organization.
Avoid using a template you found online
Apology letters should be personalized and not taken off the web. While some of my staff take their time to compose an elaborate and sincere apology letter, others use the same templates and writing styles.
Keep the letter brief without adding any extraneous information, and be sure to express your regret thoroughly by including some of the feelings that represent your guilt.
Your apology letter shouldn’t be entirely dismal; it should also include a commitment to your manager that you will work harder and take precautions to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Here is what one of my employees wrote in his apology letter: “I can assure you that I have taken all necessary steps to ensure that the same mistake is not repeated.”
He added, “It is essential to me that you continue to have full confidence in me and trust in my ability to always honor my commitments.”
This demonstrated how much my employee respects me and feels the importance of maintaining my trust. Additionally, make sure to avoid being redundant as it may exemplify your apology letter as unprofessional.
Managing Partner, Structured Agency
Show an acute sense of self-awareness and awareness of the whole situation
Do not just apologize. Show that you understand the trouble you caused and its impact.
For example, suppose you made an error on a mass email. In that case, you can acknowledge that this may have affected your boss’s reputation and the company.
Furthermore, you should express what you have learned from the situation and what you plan to do to avoid the same occurrence from happening again. Showing actionable steps, you plan to take will give your boss hope for fixing the situation.
For instance, describing how you plan to triple-check your emails going forward before sending them will show a newfound sense of urgency and thoroughness in your work.
If you cannot reveal any practical solutions to improve things, it will be harder for your boss to believe you are sorry. Sorry is not enough.
You must show an acute sense of self-awareness and awareness of the situation as a whole. When writing your apology letter, take this opportunity to show how much better you will be.
Personal Injury Attorney, Uriarte Law, P.A.
Use polite and genuine language
Your connection with your supervisor may influence the tone and formality of your apology letter, but no matter how official you write, remember to be kind and sincere.
Your boss will be more likely to believe what you say if you come across as sincere, restoring their faith in you as an employee.
Respect can heighten the letter’s seriousness and show that you are aware of the gravity and implications of the circumstance. By using the right words, you can make your boss or manager forgive you for what you did and enable the two of you to carry on working together.
Senior Editor, Tandem
As a business professional with 25+ years of experience, I have had my share of experiences where I needed to apologize to my boss. Though this isn’t always a comfortable thing to do, it’s often a necessary step at one’s place of employment.
Even though apologies are often needed, many still wonder how you write an apology letter to your boss.
Though everyone is entitled to their opinions, when it comes to a job, more often than not, it’s the facts that matter.
Keep your tone factual when writing about what happened without interjecting your feelings about what happened. Your boss can come to you for more details, should they be needed.
Own up to your faults and mistakes
The proverb “To err is human; to forgive, divine” has merit.
If you made a mistake, as we all do, and this is what you are apologizing for, then take responsibility. And hopefully, forgiving is precisely what your boss will do if you admit to your error.
Apologize sooner rather than later
Don’t wait until the issue has escalated to decide that it’s time to give an apology. Time could be of the essence, and apologizing now instead of waiting could make the difference between your apology being accepted and rejected.
A mistake does not define you. Regardless of what you are apologizing for, a mistake you make or an act you need to apologize for does not define you.
After all, we are all human, and we all make mistakes. The best thing to do is to learn from our mistakes and apologize when necessary.
It’s not always what you did or said but how you handle a situation that people remember. And when you handle a situation with class and apologize when necessary, even if the apology is to your boss, you will more likely than not be forgiven.
Founder and CEO, TrumpExcel
Write your letter of apology as soon as feasible
Avoid delays. If you postpone your apology, it is possible that you may miss some crucial points or look careless.
The objective is to notice your mistake and promptly fix any difficulties that may develop as a result. If you’re fortunate, just a few coworkers will see your error.
There may, however, be unexpected effects that your supervisor will need to react to and handle with caution. An apology and an offer of assistance may help you preserve your career.
“Dear [Mr./Ms. Last Name],
Please accept my sincere regrets and apologies for this action. It was improper, rude, and lacked the professionalism that you and my coworkers expect from a company-name employee.
While I cannot change the past, I have taken measures to prevent similar occurrences and misconceptions from occurring in the future.
I cherish our professional connection and am certain that our continued collaboration will result in high-quality work that will benefit both [Company Name] and our customers/clients.
President, Luxury Pianos
You want to claim your misstep entirely and assume the fault
Abstain from rationalizing or accusing others. When the peruser sees that you have acknowledged what you have done and are inferable from it completely, they will see you as a genuine person.
When you are relating the episode, you don’t have to retell the whole story—yet simply the part paving the way to it and telling them how your activities hurt them.
You will likewise get the valuable chance to explain why you did what you did, whether deliberate or accidental. Yet, try not to point fingers.
For example, you are an editor who made a mistake in sending out a well-written draft. You can say, “I’m extremely sorry for my actions, and I’m ready to take full responsibility.”
Continue with what happened, and state that you’ll fix everything yourself, all you need is a chance.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?