The art of the apology: It’s about them, not you
  • leadership
  • Blog post

The art of the apology: It’s about them, not you

Managers shouldn’t have to apologize a lot – if you do, you’re probably not getting the job done – but there are times when it’s important to do so.

Maybe you snapped at a subordinate. Or maybe you delayed a meeting, obliging your team to stick around after closing time. In situations like these, an apology goes a long way in restoring the balance.

‘I didn’t mean to’ – bad
The big thing to remember when apologizing is that it’s about the people you hurt or inconvenienced, not about you.

So you don’t want to say something that begins with, “I didn’t mean to,” or “I was trying to,” or “I didn’t realize.” People will not take these as apologies.

Instead, focus on how what you did affected the other person (or people), how they might feel, and how you can enable everyone to move forward.

‘It wasn’t cool of me’ – good
This might sound like: “I’m sorry I acted unkindly. It must have made you feel bad. We have a good relationship, and I hope it hasn’t been harmed.”

In the case of a team, you might say: “It wasn’t cool of me to make you all wait. I’m sure you’re eager to go home. I’m going to cut everything out of the agenda except the top item, so we can get out of here quickly.”

Source: Heidi Grant Halvorson, blogging at

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