Jennifer Thomas is a bestselling author, psychologist, speaker, consultant & apology critic

What to Say When Your Co-Worker Wants a Better Apology From You

Photo by sean dreilinger

Scenario:  Francis works in an office in Chicago where she gets along well with her coworkers. But one afternoon a coworker, Diane, told her she was bothered by the fact that Francis “never apologizes.” Francis was at a complete loss but then she remembered an incident in which she had made a mistake on a new brochure that affected Diane. Francis asked Diane if they could sit down and talk for a minute.

What to Say:

Francis: Let’s I circle back to that mistake I made on our brochure a few weeks ago.

Diane: O.K. what?

Francis: I think I took responsibility for my mistake and I said I sorry for the inconvenience. I truly do apologize for my error. I thought you had accepted my apology but now I see that you didn’t since you just said that I never apologize. Was there something else that you needed to hear from me?

Diane: Well, you never asked me to forgive you!

Francis: Well, I want you to forgive me, because I value our relationship. So let me ask you now, “Will you please forgive me?”

Diane: Yes, I will.


Why This Works:

Francis and Diane have different languages of apology. To Diane, people are just giving half apologies until they request her forgiveness. As so often happens, Francis had apologized in her own way, had checked the apology off her list, and moved on. She felt she had given a complete apology but Diane did not consider that to be a sincere apology.

What Doesn’t Work:

If someone tells you that your apology didn’t register for them, keep the conversation going. Francis could have gotten mad, refused to deal with Diane, and gossiped about her to their co-workers. Sadly, that approach just leads to fractured relationships and more hurt feelings on both sides. For teams to be productive, they must keep open lines of communication despite mistakes that inevitably happen.

What to Say or Do Next:

Be alert at work for co-workers who speak a different apology language from you. All of these apology languages are learnable. Realize that it’s OK not to be perfect. When you make a mistake, tell your team that you want to make it right. Don’t expect your co-workers to just accept you as you are. Show that you are willing to make changes to do better the next time.

Try This Activity:

If your mistake was especially big or if you make the same mistake repeatedly, your co-workers might still be holding a grudge. A day or two after you offer your next apology, say to the other person “On a scale of 0-10, how sincere do you feel my apology was the other day?” If the other person says anything less than 10, then you respond “What could I do to bring it up to a 10?” Continue the apology process until you have done everything possible to pave the way for forgiveness.

Share Your Thoughts Here:

What do you think?

What office situations require apologies?

New! Leave a comment here or under any of my posts this month and/or share this post and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon gift card from me.


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