You’ve gone and screwed it all up, haven’t you?
Well if you haven’t yet, you will. Trust me.
Or someone will think that you did.
Yes, my friends, at some point in our lives, we’re all going to have to apologize.
They’re not the easiest things to write – and I’m a writer. If my writer’s block is kicking in, chances are I’m poised to write an apology.
Nonetheless, it’s important to know exactly how to write them because they’re not going away any time soon. True apologetic letters have turned into apologetic emails (because one should never, ever text an apology and let that be the end of it).
Nonetheless, there’s a formula that goes in to writing them properly, professionally, and in a way that doesn’t make you want to chase the send button with a few tequila shots.
- Always keep the apology short and sweet. The longer you ramble, the bigger the chance of subjecting your reader to a lot of drama that probably has little to nothing to do with the situation at hand. Write a paragraph (that’s 5 sentences) or less. For those who struggle with writing, this is where you breath a sigh of relief. After all, a paragraph is often less than 100 words and you’ve already mastered that skill.
- Don’t focus on the wrong things. So often our apologies are focused on exactly what happened as opposed to what is going to be done to fix it. Think about it: when you’re pissed at someone and writing up that nasty response, don’t you just get angrier and angrier the more you replay the situation in your head? You both know what the apology is regarding. Focus on what will be done to fix it.
- Choose those words wisely. You want to begin a conversation and calm the storm, not throw wood on the pissed off frenzy of fire. Choosing the right words can be the biggest challenge for someone that doesn’t write often or doesn’t enjoy writing. I understand. Just memorize this sentence: “It’s imperative that you know how deeply sorry I am.” More details on why this is an awesome phrase to keep in your back pocket below.
Okay, let’s just say that you actually did something wrong. I can’t believe it either, but it tends to happen to the best of us. What does that apology read like, exactly? The exercises below are geared toward the workplace, but I’ll explain the basic idea in-depth so you can tweak as needed.
You missed a phone call with a client.
OH NO! I had you on my calendar for 2pm, not 1pm. It’s imperative that you know how deeply sorry I am and I’d appreciate an opportunity to right this situation as it’s unacceptable on my part.
Can I offer a free hour of writing consultation services in addition to our consultation call?
See what I did there? Let’s break it down.
OH NO! (Or some other phrase you like to use: Oh my goodness, Drats, Shoot, Fiddlesticks) in all caps signifies the importance and urgency of your email. It also suggests that you’re not an idiot – in other words, missing your call with them is totally outside the norm.
I had you on my calendar for 2pm, not 1pm. Give a reason as to why this happened. It’s so easy, especially when we screw up, so say something along the lines of, “this is all my fault.” Guess what? As nice as it sounds in your head, it just leads to future distrust. By offering up exactly why you screwed up the person reading your apology can see that this instance was likely an anomaly rather than the standard.
It’s imperative that you know how deeply sorry I am and I’d appreciate an opportunity to right this situation as it’s unacceptable on my part. Everything about this phrase puts you in a submissive position while you’re placing the reader of your apology in a position of power. However, in this position of power, your reader also feels your sincerity and understanding, which helps to cut back on the level of tension. Boom.
Can I offer a free hour of writing consultation services in addition to our consultation call? We all love free stuff. I love it. You love it. The person you’re sorry to loves it. There are plenty of free things to be offered too, even if this isn’t a business related apology. Stand up a friend? Offer to buy them a drink. Stand up your kid? A trip to Disney probably goes a long way. I joke. Maybe just offer them a puppy or something.
See that? Short. Succinct. Smooth. You’re on your way!
On the other hand, we’ve all had to apologize for things that are not our fault. Not by a long shot. That apology too, is something we all must learn how to write, damn it all. The most common apology I find myself writing on a Monday morning is when a client emailed then texted then called with an urgent task- and I didn’t do it. After all, it was the weekend. That one reads a bit differently.
Good morning! I wanted to let you know that I did receive your requests over the weekend. Unfortunately, because they were received after normal business hours (9-5, M-F) I didn’t get them until this morning, which I’m sure, must have been somewhat frustrating. I’m happy to make the changes that were requested and they should arrive no later than end of day Thursday, June 27.
I’m very excited to be working on this project with you. In the meantime, if you have any other projects or assignments to add, please feel free to reach out with them. I’m all over it.
Now let’s break that down.
Good morning! Start with a pleasant greeting that has nothing to do with the fact you’d like them to stick it where the sun don’t shine.
I wanted to let you know that I did receive your requests over the weekend. Unfortunately, because they were received after normal business hours (9-5, M-F) I didn’t get them until this morning, which I’m sure, must have been somewhat frustrating. This part is two-fold. It not only shares with your client that you’re on the ball during normal business hours, but it also tells them where their expectations might have fallen astray. It does not offer any kind of solution because there is no solution to be offered to them and certainly no free things. It explains that you don’t work weekends (duh) and that isn’t something to apologize for (also duh). It also acknowledges their feelings (panic, frustration) when they couldn’t get in touch, but doesn’t feed them.
I’m happy to make the changes that were requested and they should arrive no later than end of day Thursday, June 27. You’re “happy” to make the changes for them. You’re not angry that their attempts to contact you went over the invisible line. You’re not pissed off that they intruded on your weekend. Rather, you’re feeling upbeat and helpful. Not only that, but you’ve given them a date by which they can expect return which helps alleviate future bugging.
I’m very excited to be working on this project with you. In the meantime, if you have any other projects or assignments to add, please feel free to reach out with them. Reinforce that you’re happy and excited about the assignment. Give them an ego boost. You’re excited to be working with them. Assure them that they can continue sending you tasks and that this situation should not be off-putting.
I’m all over it. Final sentence equates nap time blankie. It’s comforting. The client has nothing to worry about.
So you see, it doesn’t have to hurt to write an apology even when it hurts to write an apology. It also doesn’t have to be something that you plot out half your afternoon to write. Sure you might want to add a bit of personalization if the apology is to a friend or about a more serious matter, but the above should definitely take the worry out of the basic apologies that happen on a (hopefully irregular) basis.
What do you think? Share the ways you like to apologize below. Flowers don’t count unless they’re accompanied by a letter of acknowledgement.