How To Accept an Apology at Work

Recently I wrote a post encouraging professionals to have an interpersonal “disaster recovery plan” for those times when they wish they could take back an unfortunate choice of words. After all, I reasoned,  if you’re truly a professional then you’ll have some sort of plan for the (rare!) times you let your emotions get the best of you.

You know what else makes you a professional? You act graciously when you’re on the receiving end of a colleague’s blunder.  I’m not talking about allowing someone to treat you poorly*.  No, I’m talking about those times when someone tried to be funny, but wasn’t.  Or, their attempt at edgy repartee came out sounding a bit mean.  Or any number of other things that get said in the workplace by a decent person who contracted a temporary case of foot-in-mouth disease.

It happens. They’re mortified. You’re caught off guard. If you can manage a gracious response then you will have succeeded in stopping what could turn into resentment between you and your colleague. Better yet, you’ve helped preserve another person’s dignity.

Professional responses might include:

“I know you didn’t mean to be hurtful. I accept your apology.”

 “It’s OK. We all have those days once in awhile.”

“I understand. You’re angry at the situation, not at me.”

“You seem really irritated about this. Should we take a break and discuss it later?”

It takes courage for the offending speaker to publicly acknowledge the transgression. Tempting as it might be to poke back, resist. Take the high road. Accept the apology . . .and mean it. After all, wouldn’t you hope they’d do the same for you?

*I’m not talking about intentional snide comments, tirades or any form of workplace bullying.  That’s a different topic altogether and not acceptable behavior. Period.

Photo credit: © Vicky Leon

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