No one likes to be wrong, but it’s a fact of life that at some point everyone will find the finger of blame pointed straight at them. As is the case with most things in life, the outcome of this situation depends largely on how you respond to it. Here are some tips for how to say “I’m sorry” (with meaning) in writing.
- First, grow up! No one is right all the time. It’s okay to be wrong. The sooner you admit that and accept responsibility, the better off you’ll be. No, it’s not easy. Being the “bigger person” in a situation never is. But accepting one’s guilt gracefully not only reveals character but can build it too.
- Write a hand-written note. Nothing is more sincere than a hand-written note to the party whom you’ve offended, let down or wronged. Don’t send an e-mail. Don’t send a greeting card. Don’t leave a voicemail and certainly don’t text. When you take the time to hand-write a note with pen and paper, it says something about the sincerity of your apology.
- Be sincere. Either apologize or don’t. A written apology is no time for excuses (“Traffic was bad…my cell phone died…my computer crashed”), passive-aggressiveness or impersonal responses (“I regret the situation…if I offended you, it was not the intent.”). Just say “I’m sorry” and take full ownership.
- Short is not sweet. A good apology is more than a one-liner. Pretend you’re writing a thank-you note. How many times have you simply written “Dear Grandma: Thanks for the socks for my birthday. Love, your granddaughter.” Sounds a little cursory, doesn’t it? Flesh the apology out a little. Assure the offended party that it won’t happen again. This will keep the apology from sounding like a form letter.
- Offer to make amends. Often it’s appropriate to suggest a way to make it up to the offended or aggrieved party. Perhaps you could suggest getting together for coffee or lunch to bury the hatchet, or if there were actual physical or monetary losses, offer to make good on them. For example, “I’d be happy to replace your iPad—I’m sure you’re lost without it! Call me and we’ll go shopping.”
No, the thank-you note isn’t easy or fun. But no one ever said that being a grown-up would be. Smart business people will use the opportunity to not only enhance their own character, but to actually strengthen a relationship. An aggrieved party may long remember how well you handled a goof-up and may respond with similar tact and grace to you in the future. Likewise, they may turn a cold shoulder if their memory of the encounter is unpleasant.