Messed Up? How to Let Go When Your Apology Is Not Enough

Messed Up? How to Let Go When Your Apology Is Not Enough
by Joelle Zarcone
Photos Stephanie Yang | October 10, 2016
We all know that feeling in the pit of our stomaches when we've messed up. All you want to do is apologize profusely—but what if the person on the other end doesn't accept your "I'm sorry."? 
We’ve all been there. Unless you’re superwoman, you’ve probably made an error at work at some point in your career. If you haven’t—well, it’s probably coming. And that’s OK.

Maybe it was a biggie, like you accidentally set the break room on fire or slept through a critical client meeting. (Hopefully not.) Or maybe it was much smaller, like angling the staple in a packet of documents the wrong way (yes, that’s a real thing I’ve seen a client get upset about).

Either way, an apology was probably needed.

So you respectfully said you’re sorry for whatever the issue was, and then what?

First, make sure your apology was sincere; it should demonstrate that you understand why the other person is upset and actually ask for forgiveness. You can follow your verbal apology with a brief, to-the-point email expressing once again that you’re sorry. After that, drop it.

Like a bad relationship, Let. It. Go.

Not every situation will end happily, with your boss smiling and telling you you’re amazing. And you can’t “sorry I’m sorry” forever to try and prompt a response you feel more content with. We already know that women habitually apologize more frequently than men, but experts say that apologizing over and over can actually make you seem insincere.

There’s a fine line between apologizing because the situation warrants it, and pressing for validation of your worth as a professional.  
There’s a fine line between apologizing because the situation warrants it, and pressing for validation of your worth as a professional.

Dust yourself off and move on

Sometimes “I’m sorry” is simply not enough to fix a situation, and there really may not be another way to rectify it. What’s done is done, and there’s no magic wand to erase your client or boss’s memory.

Assuming you still have your job and your role wasn’t affected severely by the hiccup, embrace whatever discomfort you may feel and take a deep breath. Use some positive affirmations to help turn the dial up on your confidence again. It’s time to refocus and set your sights on showing how great you still are.

WHEN YOU'VE MESSED UP, Actions speak louder than words

In life, your actions always matter, but it is especially true here. Let your behavior moving forward prove your skill and intelligence, as well as your resilience when the going gets tough. That’s what will remind colleagues you’re a pro.

So, keep going.

We’re all human, and that means mistakes will happen. No one is perfect (no, seriously—no one), so give yourself a break!

Bouncing back isn’t always easy after a setback in the workplace, no matter how serious, and it can shake your confidence. But apologizing on repeat will not win any wars, and forgiveness will not undo any errors. Instead, turn your attention to finding peace within yourself, growing your expertise and pushing forward with a positive attitude.

You’ve got this. 
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What did you do when someone didn't accept your apology?