How to say “sorry” to your boss

How do we say sorry and sound like we mean it? We want the other person to know that we genuinely regret the mistake. This shows honesty and integrity.

Besides creating content for My English Matters, I also have a part-time job translating and subtitling for a broadcasting company.

The other day, I made a mistake. I was supposed to submit a task last Saturday, but I thought the deadline was Sunday!

My supervisor emailed me about this. She’s a great supervisor, she didn’t sound angry in the email (I think) but I felt terrible about making the mistake. So I replied the email with an apology.

If you’re like any normal person, it’s likely you’ve made mistakes in the past and will do so in the future.

Here are a few tips on how you can write an apology. These tips can also be applied for when you’re speaking, but it would be more conversational.

1. Say you’re sorry with a brief explanation (if an explanation is necessary).

Sometimes, just saying sorry is enough. But other times, giving an explanation helps the other person understand why you made the mistake.

When I say brief, I mean, your explanation has to be short. Because if you’re giving a really long explanation about why you made the mistake, it may come across as you justifying it and that you don’t feel bad about what happened.

So keep it brief. If possible, keep it to just one sentence. For example:

“I’m so sorry for the mistake. I mixed up the dates and thought the submission date was today!”

I wouldn’t further explain myself by saying, “I thought there were 29 days in February, so I thought 2nd March was today… blah, blah, blah.” (even though this is true).

Further explanation can be–if necessary–expressed after the other person has replied your email, or if you’re speaking, they have said something back.

2. Say that that you’ll do your best not to repeat it.

So after you admit and apologise for the mistake, you want to assure the other person that you’re going to do your best to not make the mistake again.

Notice that I wrote “do your best” in bold? Don’t say “try your best”.

Have you heard that famous quote by Yoda from Star Wars?

“Do or do not. There is no try”.

I could write a whole post about why we should avoid using the word “try”, but in short, when saying “I will try”, you’re actually giving yourself an excuse for not doing your best.

People (especially bosses, clients or customers) usually want to know that you will do your best rather than just try.

3. End with a “thank you”.

Show your appreciation for the other person by saying “Thank you for your understanding”. If relevant, “Thank you for your help”.

I would say “Sorry again and thank you for your understanding.” to conclude the email or conversation.

So that’s it. Basically there are just three to four sentences to expressing your apology:

1. Sorry and brief explanation why – one or two sentences
2. Say you’ll do your best not to repeat the mistake – one sentence
3. Sorry again and thank you – one sentence

Once you’ve apologised, there’s really nothing else you can do. Most people would accept your apology, but if they don’t, well that’s not really within your control anymore. As long as you know that you work hard and you don’t make mistakes on purpose.

I hope you find this post helpful. It’s okay to make mistakes–we all make them. But it’s always good to let the other person know you’re sorry for it.

It helps to build trust and rapport with those we communicate with.

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