- Blog post
When and how should a manager say, ‘I’m sorry’?
“Never explain, never apologize.” It’s a dictum that may work for the commander of a military combat unit, or the dictator of a small, impoverished country.
But for most managers, it’s bad advice. There are times when you absolutely should apologize. Apologies don’t make you look weak — the fear of some managers – but can actually make you look even stronger, smarter and more credible in the eyes of most employees.
So how do you know when it’s apology time? And what do you say? Bob Rosner, who blogs at Workplace911.org, advises an apology in situations like these:
- You make a mistake in procedure or process that inconveniences others.
- You set an unrealistic goal that team members can’t – and don’t – meet.
- You lose your temper or resort to sarcasm about a subordinate.
Rosner also notes that it’s important to apologize as soon as you become aware of your mistake. Don’t wait for the offended party to complain. Exception: If legal issues might be involved, get advice from HR or company counsel before apologizing.
How to do it
What’s the best way to apologize?
First, make it unconditional. Don’t suggest the mistake was in another’s perception of what you did. Wrong: “I’m sorry if you took what I said as an insult.” Right: “What I said wasn’t kind or fair, and I’m sorry I said it.”
Second, issue the apology in the same forum in which you made the mistake. In other words, if you humiliated someone in front of her colleagues, apologize in front of them.
Third, resist the urge to pledge that you won’t make the mistake again. Sure, you’ll try not to, but we’re all human.