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How to Apologize for a Professional Mistake Without Groveling

by Stan Mack, studioD

No one likes apologizing. Admitting you were wrong is hard, especially to your colleagues, who count on you to do your part for the team. But no matter how bad you feel about your mistake, you shouldn’t overreact or let others use your error to take advantage of you. Everyone makes mistakes, and others should respect your willingness to take responsibility and make amends.


Meet with the people impacted by your mistake, individually if possible. If meeting isn't an option, draft an apology letter or call people in turn. The important thing is to make your apologies immediately after realizing your mistake, according to the book “Etiquette for Dummies,” by Sue Fox. Otherwise the gesture might seem insincere. For instance, if you wait until people confront you, chances are they will think any subsequent apology is only occurring because you were caught. Being proactive, on the other hand, lets people know you’re eager to take responsibility.

Demonstrate You’ve Changed

Explain that you will never make the same mistake again. For example, point out that the mistake occurred because of a technical flaw or misunderstanding that has since been corrected. Convincing others that future mistakes are not a concern will help everyone move on.

Avoid Groveling

Be humble, but don’t grovel. For example, admit you were wrong but don’t accept abusive reactions from injured parties. Some people might use your regret as an opportunity to lord it over or otherwise take advantage of you. Despite your bad feelings, keep your mistake in perspective. Mistakes occur in every enterprise, and it’s unreasonable for your colleagues or supervisors to expect perfection. They, too, make mistakes, and you should remind them of that if they react too harshly.

Letting Go of the Past

Move on. After you’ve apologized and made whatever amends you can, don’t continue to feel bad or keep apologizing every time you see the people impacted by your mistake. Keeping your mistake alive by failing to move on does nothing to eliminate the problems you caused. If others won’t let you live down your error, be patient at first. Let some time pass to prove that things have changed. But if you feel others should have dropped the issue by now, confront them privately and politely explain that you've already apologized and it’s time to leave the past behind.

About the Author

Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.

Photo Credits

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