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Lead Your Team Leadership

Are You Really Sorry? How to Prove Your Sincerity to Your Team

image for Ridofranz / Getty Images
Ridofranz / Getty Images
  • Apologizing in any situation can be awkward. It might feel even more uncomfortable in a work setting.
  • It is important to let your employees know that you are genuine in your apology. You are not just going through the motions, but you truly are sorry for what you did.
  • Whether it is in person or in an email, remain professional and authentic.

Everyone makes mistakes – even bosses. If you admit to your faults and express your remorse, you might expect to be forgiven. However, according to a 2018 study, managers are rarely believed to be sorry.

According to leadership coach Jack Skeen, co-author of The Circle Blueprint (Wiley, 2017), employees think bosses only apologize to avoid conflict.

This belief can be detrimental to your team. It's crucial for workers to be on the same page as managers, and even the smallest disconnect can cause tension and lead to poor results.

Want to ensure your employees trust your sincerity? Here are three tips to persuade your team that you really are sorry.

If you show your employees that you're interested in more than just their work and how it benefits the company, they'll begin to trust you.

"If employers want employees to believe them when they say, 'I'm sorry,' we first need to work on changing the culture that makes employers and employees feel as though they are on different social stratospheres," said Skeen.

To do this, Skeen recommends talking to your team about topics other than work and finding ways to reverse the roles so you can cater to them for a change. This can be as simple as brewing coffee for your team or bringing bagels to work.

"If we can see our staff members as human beings and, most importantly, make them realize that we view them as worthy, unique and inherently valuable individuals, they won't struggle to believe we are sincere when we apologize," Skeen said.

Anyone can be a boss, but not everyone can be a leader. If you act like corporate robot, your employees won't trust you and they will question your sincerity. Be considerate of your entire team, and they won't doubt your emotions for a second.

You can say sorry all you want, but if you don't genuinely feel bad about something, it will show.

"Crocodile tears don't work," said Skeen. "People spot insincerity from a mile away. If you aren't truly sorry, don't apologize. It will do more damage than good."

The same goes for repeated mistakes. A spoken apology only goes so far; if no change is made, your team will think you simply don't care. Express your sorrow by not only admitting to your faults but also learning from them and making a change.

When workers believe that you're only apologizing because you think you should, they'll see where your intentions lie – with the company rather than its workers. This will position you in dangerous territory as a boss.

When you screw up, don't point fingers at anyone but yourself. You want to set a good example for your workers by showing them that you hold yourself accountable.

"Express awareness of the implications of your mistake on others," said Skeen. "If what you did created more work or other problems for people on your team, list those implications. It helps when people see that you know what it feels like to walk in their shoes."

Most importantly, listen to your workers, he added. If they have any lingering concerns, treat them with respect. You've created the mess – it's your responsibility to clean it up.

"It means a lot to your people when they see you rolling up your sleeves and getting in the trenches with them," said Skeen.

Skeen also asks what he can do to restore a damaged relationship, should there be any. That way, there is no negative energy within the team.

"The interpersonal dynamics between you and your people are one of your most important levers for success," he said. "When people like you, believe in you and feel like they are in partnership with you, they tend to give you their very best."

Many people fail to understand that professionalism does not necessarily mean formal. Show your employees that you are human. You can do this in a variety of ways.

One way is simply by telling them that you are sorry. Talk to them like you would anyone else. Acknowledge what happened, own your responsibility in the situation, and tell them how you plan on preventing that in the future.

Another way to apologize is by helping them fix whatever happened. For example, sometimes, an employee might have to cover for you when you make a mistake in scheduling. If that is the case, reach out to the person your employee spoke with and apologize directly to that person. This will help your employee know that they are not responsible for your actions.

In any email, you must get to the point. In an apology email, the same rule applies. Stay concise, and do not create some story as an excuse. Just as you would if you are apologizing in person, you must apologize, acknowledge what happened and state what you will do to prevent it from happening again.

Apologizing to a boss is daunting. You might be worried about consequences. However, it is important to own up to whatever happened. You cannot change the past, but do what you can now to clear the air and ease the tension.

As you would if you were apologizing to someone else, start with, "I am sorry." Then acknowledge the facts. If your boss faced some problems because of your mistake, acknowledge that. Discuss how you will prevent whatever happened from happening again and invite a dialogue to occur about the situation. Your boss probably wants to talk about it.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.