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Emotional intelligence and the offended party’s body language can help determine when it’s time for a mea culpa, this HR exec says.

To apologize effectively at work, it’s important to know how to word an apology and how to choose the right time. In a positive work culture, workers are not afraid to take ownership of their mistakes. Refusing to say “sorry” can undermine relationships and show disrespect, while taking accountability can reset a relationship on the right path. 

Nonetheless, apologizing can feel intimidating without the tools to know how and when to do so. What is more, an apology at an inopportune moment or with thoughtless language could be worse than no apology at all. To strike the right tone, employees and employers need to find the correct circumstances to apologize at work.


Before rushing into a hasty apology, decide whether an apology is necessary, to begin with. Apologizing excessively can waste time, highlight irrelevant mistakes and detract from the impact of each apology on its own. Instead of a long or detailed apology, try a brief “sorry about that” for a minor error like a typo in an email. Drawn-out apologies become necessary when a mistake causes harm to business, results in a higher workload for coworkers, or represents a long-term pattern.

Still, even accidents may produce unexpected outcomes. With that in mind, emotional intelligence and body language can help determine, for instance, if a coworker’s withdrawal from a friendship may reveal the need to address a mistake head-on. Remember that HR advisors and coworkers can offer helpful perspectives on whether an apology could help a situation. A sincere apology reflects thoughtfulness and accountability, setting a positive tone for a relationship.

Read the complete Fast Company article BY NIKI JORGENSEN:

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