Here is a classic P.G. Wodehouse quote that so illustrates this misplaced focus of posturing to forge relationships: “It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”
In business writing, this is not true!
We often feel that an apology means we are taking responsibility for situations not caused by us. No! A good apology means we care. It shows we are responsible. It proves we value people and can be trusted.
Business Apology Example of No Error
Business Apology Example of Need to Admit Liability
We all want to avoid unpleasant situations, but sending a note or email indicates you take the liability seriously, and are truly sorry. It conveys a sincerity that a simple phone call does not.
When You Overstep and Say Things You Regret
I’ve heard executives say they never want to document any errors in writing, but I disagree. Instead, this documents Kara’s realization and apology, in addition to enhancing her business relationship with Ashok.
Tip: note that letter format is different than memo format.
- Overtly state you are sorry. “I apologize.” “I’m sorry.” “I regret.”
- Ask the reader to accept your apology.
- Summarize what happened, to reflect your understanding.
- Offer remedies, if this is needed.
- Address only the apology in your note. Keep it to this one subject.
- Don’t infer your reader was also to blame. Not: “I only wish you had been more clear my attendance was needed.” Address only your own actions.
- Don’t blame anyone else. Not: “My team leader was unclear with his instructions, so I thought I was to present next week, not this week.”
- Don’t globalize the issue. Apologize for this situation, at this time. Not: “I’m sorry I was late, but you rarely start meetings on time. I thought I would arrive before the meeting started.”
- Most importantly, don’t use the common “sorry, but” formula. It’s insincere and makes you look angry. Not: “I’m sorry I overreacted, but you were not clear about your instructions.”
The Right Words Heal and Help Business
In many business writing courses, I hear from clients they worry an apology intimates they are weak or error-prone. Don’t fall into this insincere power-broking writing formula. Good business communication fosters connection and relationships, not a false power dance.
Words are powerful, and a thoughtful, honest, un-obsequious apology respects both you and the recipient. It will always enhance your career.