Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Q: I did some things that really upset a co-worker last week. I’ve apologized but the person is clearly still mad and as a result there is a lot of tension between us. How do I resolve this conflict with my co-worker?
A: Some experts believe that unresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses (Dana 1999, Slaikev and Hasson 1998). You’re on the right track. Saying “I’m sorry” is exactly what is needed to clear up this conflict and ease the tension between you. There are actually five distinct parts to making a real apology. When done right, it can not only resolve the conflict but can build a stronger relationship.
First, here is what not to say: “I’m sorry you feel that way“ or “I’m sorry but…“ Both examples make it seem like you are blaming the other person for how they feel and not taking responsibility for your part in how they are feeling.
Here is how to give a real apology:
Say “I’m sorry” – it’s got to be sincere or don’t bother. There is nothing worse than an insincere apology. Ensure your body language and tone of voice show your sincerity.
Own your actions by saying what you are sorry for doing or saying.
Explain what you will do differently next time.
Make amends. Ask the person you harmed what you can do to make the situation better.
Let the other person talk. Listen and share what they are feeling or thinking.
Each step is important; the most overlooked steps are 4 and 5. In order for the relationship to have a chance to be repaired you need to ask how you can make things right and then listen to what the person has to say.