No matter how skilled you are at your profession, how long you’ve been killing it in the workforce or how often you go above and beyond your job description — mistakes happen. Though you might consider yourself a boss and a superhero at the top of your game, at your core, you are thoroughly human — and simply can’t get everything just right. This means every once in a while, you’ll have to admit you’re wrong in the office, whether to a colleague, your manager or an employee. To effectively and professionally do this takes maturity and emotional intelligence, according to career and branding expert Wendi Weiner. By having the courage and the smarts to remove said-foot out of said-mouth can help salvage working dynamics, create a stronger alignment in your environment and most importantly, help you grow as an individual, Weiner notes.
The conversation, no matter how mature you believe yourself to be, will be uncomfortable. But by actively approaching the topic and leaning into this awkward situation for both parties, you iterate your confidence and strength in your performance — even with an error. Here, experts reveal how to say “I was wrong,” and keep moving forward.
Take ownership and responsibility
Here’s the deal: after explaining to your assistant several times how to complete a task, he or she delivers lackluster work, yet again. You understand they are learning and it is your responsibility to help them improve, but you’re on a deadline and frustrated. You lash out — and then feel guilty about it for the rest of the afternoon. It’s time to swallow your ego and apologize, making you the stronger person, according to Weiner.
“Even if it was not your intention to hurt the person’s feelings, by taking ownership of it, you will boost, morale as well as show that you are dedicated to being a perceptive feeler of others,” she explains.
Say the ball is in the other court and you somehow missed a deadline with a client, Weiner recommends apologizing ASAP, since time is of the essence. Don’t place blame on anything or anyone, just take responsibility. “Blowing a deadline can have treacherous consequences, particularly if a client is waiting for a project delivery from you. If you blow a deadline, no matter how busy you are or why it happened, apologize for it, and take ownership of it,” she adds.
Address it quickly
Do you remember that one annoying habit your best friend had three months ago where she would skip out on plans at the last minute? Now that she’s figured out her wrongdoing, do you think she should apologize? Maybe so, but the impact won’t be quite as strong as it would have been if she said “Whoops!” at that moment. Career coach and author Mary Camuto stresses apologizing in real-time if you can. This makes it less likely to fester and nips any drama instantly. However, she also says it is important to have your wits about you before apologizing.
“You must be in good emotional control in order to be effective in this type of conversation and cannot risk becoming defensive, sullen or half-hearted,” she explains.
Is it too late to say you’re sorry? Nope. But it can be too bad to say it too much. In other words, the valuable part of apologizing is acknowledging what happened, understanding why it happened and then getting back to work. If you keep coming back to the mistake, you make it a bigger deal than what it was in the first place.
“It isn’t always about the apology but how you move on from it, and the actions you take after the incident,” Weiner continues. “Show that you are sorry by correcting the behavior that caused the wrongdoing and try to show the ways in which you will not commit it again.”
Much like overdoing it on the ‘I’m sorry’ speech, mentor and business coach Christine Agro says it doesn’t bode well for you to grovel either. When you act overly ashamed, embarrassed or affected by the wrongdoing, you will encourage others to take on this negative mindset, too.
“Be clear about where the error is and offer a solution or correction,” she continues. “If you hold a place of certainty, others will follow suit and your admission will present like a mature conversation rather than a fearful atonement.”
Listen — don’t argue
In the case your manager is asking you to step up and apologize for something when it didn’t occur to you to do so — it can be even more difficult to admit your mistake. Camuto encourages professionals to sit back, take a deep breath and listen. When you start conjuring up excuses, fighting for your side of the story or overall, not accept your part in the situation, you can come across as petty or insincere. Actually digesting the information makes it more likely you’ll be positively perceived by those in your company.
“Listen to the other person’s viewpoint and feelings. Learn from listening – and demonstrate awareness of what you could have done differently. This requires active listening and demonstrates your openness, flexibility, and emotional intelligence. There is strength in admitting we were wrong,” she explains.