Instant Forgiveness: How to Write an Apology Letter that Works

Monish SubherwalResolving ConflictLeave a Comment

With every word, I could feel my anger boiling.  It wasn’t enough that the project wasn’t moving forward.  They had to ask that SAME DUMB question again!

I. HAD. IT.

I put my mouth closer to the phone:  “You know, I’ve mentioned this MANY times.  I am not a blocker for this project!  I mentioned that last time too – work can continue without my part done.”

Ahhhhh… relief.

Ahhhhh….

shoot me.

Immediately, the phone got silent.  You know, that split second silence – that vacuum of time where everyone knows something weird just happened.

Then suddenly someone saved the day (and essentially breaking the awkwardness) explaining how I was right and how the project can move forward without my part.

With that, the conversation moved forward.

But I didn’t.

That was NOT cool.  I sensed others noticed and started to feel a bit guilty. But maybe I was overthinking it?  What to do?

Typical Bad Advice:  Forget about it.

Many people just blame others or justify their behavior. They say to themselves, “hey! Tom deserved it. He isn’t following through and never listens to what I say.”

Or if they aren’t blaming or justifying, they are too afraid to apologize so just move on telling themselves “well, next time I won’t do that.”  But they typically do.

Empowering Advice: Apologize for your behavior and recommit to the other person.

A lot of people say that bad behavior at work isn’t appropriate because it’s a place for professionalism – Okkkay. How about bad behavior not being appropriate at work AND everywhere else? Where is bad behavior acceptable really?

I may sound like mom scolding you – but really, this is about your integrity, reputation, and reliability as a stable person on the team. Those things are well worth the fear of a public apology.

On an almost woo woo level – there is also shows you how you behave under pressure. Calmness under pressure “equanimity” is a value to STRIVE for. It’s the biggest quality leaders have — not freaking out when the going gets tough.

My Public Apology

I eventually realized it was better to be safe and apologize.  What harm could it do?  I do care about my team and want to make the environment a pleasant one.

I emailed my team 10 minutes later with something like this (of course names are rewritten here):

Team,

Apologies on getting a bit frustrated on the question about the work.  🙂  I just wanted to make it clear that we can get going without me.  We all want this project to move forward and development to get going with direction.  No one wants to be a blocker.  I think its great we can continue having meetings like this to check if we’re moving and the priorities are understood – and what people need.  

Tom, Jill, Larry, and I are working on getting the product designed, cleaned up and handling all the use cases.  Just wanted to recommit to make sure clarity is there on my side and to continue being helpful if we need anything to move forward.

Stuffing the fear down — I hit the “Send” button and crossed my fingers.  “Good God, what did I do?” I thought.

Here’s what the responses were…

1.  “I don’t think you sounded frustrated or there is any need for apologies. :)”

2.  “Ha ha – no worries…  to be honest, I think we’re all a bit frustrated… :)”

3.  “We do get that and that was not the intention of the meeting…And we are all a team on this, we just need to come up with a routine that works for this team.”

The very last message #3, was a bit longer (but I condensed it here for privacy and brevity sake).  Basically, she was sharing how important goals were for me and the team.

How I felt afterward…and lessons learned

Wow.  What wonderful responses!  Not expected!

A lot of times, we think others will judge us for our apologies.  They don’t!  In fact, they can often relate (as in my responses #1 and #2).

Or we put so much pressure on the simple act of apologizing — making it feel like we’re being so vulnerable in the workplace.  Pfffff!  Get over yourself.  You’re human like everyone else.  Everyone puts the same formal work pants on and fights the same traffic.

The lesson:  Apologize. It’s ok.  Swallow your pride.  Move past your fear of what other people will think.  Everyone on your team is HUMAN.  You messed up.  It’s alright.

Better to address the issue than linger in self doubt (was it a problem?  should I apologize or not?) or delusion (problem – what problem?).

It’s ok to make mistakes in life, so long as you learn.

Most people didn’t mind about my slip up.  In fact, my apology gave them an opportunity to connect and share their experience of how the team could be stronger.  How awesome is that?

3 Steps to Drafting a Good Apology Email

I know this question may come up.  How to draft a good apology email?

Yes, I was a bit afraid to send that email, but it came out alright because it was coming from my heart. First and foremost, you have to FEEL that you messed up and that your team does matter to you.  

Nothing in my email would have been received positively if it didn’t come from my heart.

That being said, there were a few things I did in my email that works when apologizing.

  1. Start with the apology and stating the clear facts of what happened.  “Apologies on getting a bit frustrated on the question about the work.  🙂 “
  2. Share what your REAL concern was.  A lot of times, we get angry because of another reason.  We mask the true source of our anger and make it about something else.  If I get honest with myself, I got angry because I didn’t want to be seen as a blocker and the person who was keeping the team behind.  I don’t care if others keep asking me the same question.”I just wanted to make it clear that we can get going without me.  We all want this project to move forward and development to get going with direction.  No one wants to be a blocker.”
  3. Recommit to the team that you’re there for them and you’re not interested in being a bonafide JERK.”Just wanted to recommit to make sure clarity is there on my side and to continue being helpful if we need anything to move forward.”

Your thoughts? 

I always love to hear from you!  Share your thoughts or a similar situation below.  It will definitely help out others.

Stay Empowered,

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Monish

 

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