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The Building Blocks of an Effective Office Apology

August 15, 2014, 6:00 PM

Working in an office means abiding by a unique set of unwritten, often-convoluted social customs. It's not unlike the silent code championed by baseball players that determines consequences for perceived affronts. But instead of a 95 mph fastball aimed at their ribs, employees who offend a co-worker often find themselves the object of work-stifling scorn and stonewalling. 

An example: Anne Fisher, Fortune's business advice columnist, recently answered a question from a reader who inadvertently stuck his/her foot in his/her mouth:

"A couple of weeks ago, my team was in a big meeting with another team, our boss, his boss, and a very senior person both managers report to. At one point, my boss was presenting the results of a research project I had worked on, and he got a couple of key figures wrong. The numbers came from an earlier version of the report that we had since revised, so I spoke up and corrected him."

Under neutral conditions, this wouldn't be a big deal. Within the rigid and competitive hierarchy of the business world, showing up your boss is a big no-no. The reader asked Fisher for advice on how to navigate his apology. Fisher turned to Lauren M. Bloom, author of Art of the Apology: How, When, and Why to Give and Accept Apologies.

Bloom's building blocks for an effective, tactful office apology:

1. Sincerity - don't be a phony.

2. Acknowledgement - "briefly explain precisely what you believe you did wrong."

3. Suggest a Solution - explain how you'll avoid this problem in the future.

4. Take the Punishment - It won't feel good, but your co-worker/boss may need to vent. Be humble, take it.

5. Give Thanks - Another "be humble" moment, thank the offended for their apology.

6. Learn from Your Mistakes - Don't put your foot in your mouth again, learn to look before you leap.

It should be noted that sometimes an office affront isn't necessarily your fault. Innocuous comments or harmless acts get misinterpreted all the time. Still, surviving office politics is all about playing the game -- even when the rules are silly. 

An effective apology will allow you and your co-worker to move on from the situation and, if all goes well, keep you from having to dodge beanballs.

Read more at Fortune

Photo credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock


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