Apologizing via email: 7 tips

Everyone has experienced a situation where it is necessary to apologize at work. The best way is to do that in person, but what if that’s not an option?

A miscommunication, acting impulsively, just not having your day. A mistake happened quickly, and an awkward situation quickly created. Apologies may then be in order.

It’s best to apologize in person, but that’s not always an option, especially in the corporate world. You don’t always communicate with people in your immediate environment. Email is then a logical choice.

Email gives you time to think about your answers and formulate your apology. A downside is that the recipient cannot read your facial expression and that your writing tone can be open to interpretation. So always keep the recipient in mind.

Some tips for apologizing by email

Don’t apologize if you’re still angry

Let the situation cool down a bit first. Don’t act impulsively or emotionally, especially not defensively. You may later regret what you said, and the problem may have escalated even more.

The great thing about email is that you have time to weigh up and rewrite your words. Take the time for that.

Honestly, admit your mistake or mistakes

Show that you understand the situation and that you realize what went wrong.

Apologizing without raising the issue makes it seem like you’re only apologizing because that’s what’s expected of you. It does not show that you understand what went wrong and that you could learn from the problem if necessary.

Affirm their feelings

You may not entirely agree with how the “hurt party” feels. You may not even think their reaction is well-founded or just exaggerated. You do apologize, but actually, it’s more to keep the peace. Still, you need to be empathetic and acknowledge their feelings.

It would help if you respected the other person’s feelings, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Show understanding.

Show you understand your mistake

There is a difference between apologizing and making excuses. To delete the “This is not my custom…”, “It may have seemed like…”, “I just misunderstood…” and the like.

Most people will assume that you did not make a mistake in question intentionally. Your colleagues know you, your boss also knows that you will not sabotage or go wrong on purpose, and the rest of your contacts will also assume that you are not bad for them. We all make mistakes from time to time; that’s just human. But if you make excuses and try to justify your behavior and your error, it makes you look weak.

Subterfuge can make the whole situation worse and make the other party angrier. So leave excuses behind.

Explain clearly how you are looking to rectify the situation for the future

The first step is to limit and repair the damage. If necessary, work overtime to correct your mistake. If you’re not willing to go out of your way to fix the problem, your apology is going to be worth very little. So clearly explain in your email what you are doing to clarify the situation.

Is the error of a structural nature, or could it be repeated? Then emphasize what you are going to do to prevent the problem in the future.

If you don’t know how to solve it yourself or what you can do, ask the other party the question. Don’t assume that you always have to know best. It can be polite to ask your counterpart what they think is the best solution or ask for their opinion.

Please keep it simple

The key to effectively apologizing via email is simplicity.

Apologies are too often derailed by unnecessary extra explanations and overly cordial pleasantries that don’t matter. Keep your email short and sincere.

If necessary, have someone else read your email before you click ‘send.’ An extra pair of eyes won’t hurt.

Remember that your sorry email is not a waiver

An apologetic email can go a long way, but it’s only the first step. There may be more extensive aftermath to your mistake that you should also consider.

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