At some point, everyone makes a mistake and must seek forgiveness from their friends, family or coworkers. Knowing how to apologize effectively and sincerely is an important skill to have in any workplace. In this article, we explain why an apology letter is one of the best ways to format an apology, explain how to write one and look at examples of effective apology letters.
What is an apology letter?
An apology letter is a physical document or email that acknowledges a mistake, expresses regret and asks for the letter recipient’s forgiveness or patience. Apology letters are important in the workplace because they create a physical or digital record of your admitting to and attempting to rectify a mistake or failure. Employees who can recognize when they are wrong and who make an effort to fix their mistakes are valuable additions to any professional team.
Writing an effective apology letter can be challenging but is also an incredibly significant skill. If you can humbly acknowledge your shortcomings and make amends for your mistakes, you are likely to be an effective employee and an asset to your workplace.
1. Acknowledge your mistake
The first step in writing an apology letter is informing your reader what the letter is about. Your first sentence should explain what you have done wrong and acknowledge the consequences that your mistake has had. For example, your letter might begin:
“Jackie, I need to tell you that I was the one responsible for sending you the wrong flight information for your most recent business trip. I realize that my mistake made you miss your flight and caused you unnecessary stress.”
Owning up to your mistake from the very beginning of your letter will help you seem sincere and humble. It will also ensure that your recipient hears about your mistake from you instead of through office gossip. Confronting your mistake and reaching out to the affected party directly will help you resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
2. Apologize sincerely
The next step in writing your letter is to apologize. A sincere apology will involve saying “I am sorry” without any excuses or caveats. In many cases, a genuine apology that does not attempt to shift blame to anyone else is sufficient in earning your recipient’s forgiveness. Part of apologizing sincerely is expressing your regret for the consequences you caused. For example, you might say:
“I am sorry for forgetting to email you the financial report you asked for. I felt awful when I heard that you had to reschedule your meeting with accounting because of my forgetfulness.”
3. Share your plan to fix the problem
In addition to expressing your regret, you will also need to find a way to improve the situation. Assuring your recipient that you will do everything you can to make the matter right is a good place to start, but it will be even better if you can share the specific steps you will take to do so. Having this kind of plan shows your recipient that you recognize you owe them in some way and that you have put serious thought into how you can make the situation better. For example, you might write:
“I realize that my mistake made you look bad in front of the district manager. I have already called the district office and scheduled a meeting so I can explain that I am actually the one to blame.”
4. Ask for forgiveness
Your letter should conclude with a specific attempt at making things right between you and your recipient. In most cases, this should involve a direct request for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness shows that you realize the matter is not truly resolved until your relationship with the recipient is mended. It also invites the recipient to contribute to resolving the issue and finding closure. An example of this might be:
“I need to humbly ask for your forgiveness. I know that my mistake upset you, but I can hope we can resolve this and continue to work well together.”
Tips for writing apology letters
Here are some specific tips on how to write an effective apology letter:
The most important thing to communicate in an apology letter is genuine emotion. If your letter is too stiff or impersonal, your reader is not likely to appreciate the gesture. Try to imagine how the other person is feeling and respond appropriately. It may also help to read your letter out loud before sending it to make sure it sounds natural.
Frequently, individuals find it hard to stop apologizing once they have started. Try to limit your word count and pack as much meaning as you can into just one or two paragraphs. If your letter is genuine, it should not take more than a few sentences to communicate your message effectively.
One of the primary temptations when penning an apology letter is to try to deflect blame onto others. It is important to take full responsibility for your actions, even if it damages your reputation or hurts your pride. Focus on the consequences of your actions and how you contributed to the problem. Additionally, be willing to make whatever personal sacrifices are necessary to make things right with your reader.
Apology letter examples
Example 1: Direct apology
I apologize for excluding you from the company holiday party I hosted last week. I neglected to update my personal directory and accidentally left you and several other recent hires off of the invite list. I assure you that the exclusion was not intentional and that I feel terrible about my mistake.
It is very important to me to be a team player in our workplace, and I typically make a point of reaching out to new employees and making them feel welcome. I am disappointed in my oversight and I regret any pain or stress I caused you. I have already added your contact information to my personal address book and I assure you that something like this will never happen again.
I sincerely ask for your forgiveness. I hope my mistake has not damaged our relationship and I look forward to getting you to know better at the next company gathering.
All the best,
Example 2: Third-party apology
my sincere apology on behalf of Edgar Wright Motors. We are so sorry to hear that your experience with the auto parts that we delivered did not meet the specifications you sent us. Our design and manufacturing teams should have studied your request more thoroughly and asked for your approval before shipping the final product. We understand this mistake and the delay that it has caused has been frustrating for you.
We take full responsibility for our fault in this situation and would like to replace the incorrect parts and offer you a company gift card for $100, usable in any of our 15 locations and through our online store. We hope you will accept this gesture of apology. Our development team will contact you soon to discuss your order and make certain that the replacement parts meet your needs.
We want to assure you that this type of issue will never present itself again. We have taken initiative with our manufacturing team to make sure special orders are filled more carefully in the future. We value you and your business and we hope to continue our professional relationship moving forward.
If you have any questions or want to discuss this matter further, please contact me directly or any member of our Customer Service team.
Edgar Wright Motors
Example 3: Group apology
We owe you all an apology. Last weekend, we invited a musician from out of state to perform at our restaurant. He said he had quarantined beforehand in accordance with our state guidelines, but unfortunately, we became aware afterward that this was not entirely truthful.
This pandemic has made the past year a difficult one for everyone, especially restaurants and music venues like ours, but that doesn’t mean we are exempt from the rules our local government has set in place to keep our community safe.
When we planned that event, we simply wanted to bring some joy back into our community. Looking back, we can see how we could have put our small town in jeopardy. We are committed to doing better. We will be closing our doors and suspending takeout service until we can confirm that all staff members have tested negative for COVID-19. Stay tuned for an announcement about when we are ready to reopen.
We know now more than ever how lucky we are to call this community our home. Your continued support through this stressful year means the world to us.
All the best,
Writing an Apology Letter: What You Need to Know
by By Alice Feathers, M.A. TESOL, Professional Editor and Writer
Tips For Your Apology Letter
Each of us has, at one time or another, said or done something that we wish we hadn’t said or done. Rather than dwell on the mistake, however, we should take quick action to remedy the problem and then get on with life. An effective letter of apology is an important part of that process and can help turn “lemons into lemonade” and actually improve a relationship. This short article will give you several reasons for writing an apology letter and offer a few important suggestions to help you write a good one.
TIMING. Write the apology letter as soon as possible.
ACTIONS. Rather than focusing on the damage you have caused, write about things you will do to rectify the situation.
BRIEF. Keep your apology letter short and to the point.
SINCERITY. No one wants to read overly dramatic language. Choose your words carefully and express yourself clearly and simply.
TONE. Your apology letter should be considerate and respectful. Remember, you are trying to rebuild a damaged relationship.
BLAME. Take full responsibility for what you have done.
FOLLOW UP. Try to set up a time when you can apologize in person, then back up your apology with considerate behavior in the future.
Apology Letter Tips
For a defective, damaged, or incomplete product
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Focus on actions to rectify the situation rather than any damage you may have caused. Accompany your apology with a promise of compensation or restitution. A sincere apology can go a long way toward winning back a disgruntled customer. Consider offering the customer a peace offering such as a discount on their next purchase.
For a late payment
Your apology should be brief and to the point. Your reputation as a trustworthy customer and credit risk may be in question, so your immediate and thorough attention to the matter is important. Focus on your actions to correct the problem and offer assurance it won’t happen again. A sincere, well-worded apology can do much to defuse a potential problem. Rebuild your reputation by consistently making payments on time in the future.
For a missed deadline
Apologize for a missed deadline as soon as possible after the incident. The tone of your letter should be considerate and respectful because you have probably caused some inconvenience. The letter should focus on actions you will take to make up for the missed deadline. A sincere, well-worded apology followed by positive action can do much to undo any damage to your reputation. Rebuild your reputation by consistently making your deadlines in the future.
For a shipping delay or error
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Do not apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility, and do not blame your reader or anyone else in any way. A sincere, well-worded apology can be effective in winning back an unhappy customer’s confidence and patronage. Consider offering the customer a peace offering such as a discount on their next purchase.
For betrayed trust
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Don’t apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility. Focus your comments on the actions you are taking to rectify the situation, not on the damage done. A sincere, well-worded apology, coupled with action, can go a long way toward repairing the damaged relationship. In this situation, it is usually best to apologize with a handwritten note or face to face.
For hurt feelings
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Assume your reader has good reason for being offended. Express your regret with deep sincerity. In this situation, it is usually best to apologize with a handwritten note or face to face.
For missing a meeting or an appointment
Whether you have already missed an appointment or will miss an appointment in the future, an explanatory note is a courtesy that will be appreciated. It shows you do take the relationship seriously. Be concise and polite.
For missing an event or for forgetting someone
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Focus your comments on what you are doing to rectify the situation rather than on any damage you may have caused. A sincere, well-worded apology can go a long way toward patching up a damaged relationship. Back up your apology with considerate behavior in the future.
For being late to a meeting or appointment
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Don’t apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility and don’t blame anyone. Rebuild your reputation by being consistently on time in the future.
For offensive behavior
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. This apology is best expressed with a handwritten note. Back up your apology with considerate behavior in the future.
For poor or inadequate service
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Don’t apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility. A sincere, well-worded apology can help win back disgruntled customers and business associates. Back up your apology with model behavior in the future.
For someone else (business)
Normally, you should only apologize for your own offenses. However, if you are in some way accountable for the offender’s behavior—as a supervisor might be, for example—it may be appropriate to write an apology even if the offender also writes one. Write a sincere apology as soon as possible after the incident.
For someone else (personal)
Normally, you should only apologize for your own offenses. However, if you are in some way accountable for the offender’s behavior—as a parent or youth leader might be, for example—it would be a good idea to write an apology, even if the offender also writes one (under your guidance). Write a sincere apology as soon as possible after the incident.
To an employee or employees
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. The apology should be unilateral. Do not attempt to apologize unless you plan to take full responsibility. A sincere, well-worded apology, coupled with action, can go a long way toward patching up damaged relationships with employees. Consider offering the employee(s) some sort of peace offering such as a check bonus or a one-time, 2-hour lunch break.
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. It should be clear, concise, and dignified. Focus on actions you are taking to rectify the situation, rather than on any resultant damage. A sincere, well-worded apology can go a long way toward winning back disgruntled customers and business associates.
Write this apology as soon as possible after the incident. Focus on actions you are taking to rectify the situation, rather than on any damage you may have caused. A sincere, well-worded apology can go a long way toward patching up a damaged relationship. Back up your apology with considerate behavior in the future.
In order to make a letter of apology effective, always write it as soon as possible after the offensive action takes place. Write a brief letter that is carefully worded and sincere. Whenever possible, make suitable restitution and assure the offended party that you will not repeat your regrettable behavior in the future. Back up your apology letter with appropriate behavior at the next available opportunity.