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How to Write an Apology

Mistakes are an inevitable by-product of human relationships; apologies provide the glue to mend the cracks that result. A swift and sincere apology opens the way for forgiveness and restores the offended person’s faith in you (or your business).

A written note is often better than an in-person apology because it gives you time to find the right words. It also gives the recipient time to think about your apology and decide how to respond.

Occasions that call for an apology:

·         Business errors: poor customer service, unsatisfactory products or services, order mix-ups, delayed shipments, employee ineptness or rudeness, incorrect information, billing or credit errors.

·         Belated responses/missed occasions:missed business appointments, missed personal occasions (birthday, anniversary, party, wedding); failure to show up at an event after sending RSVP; failing to respond to a gift or invitation, failure to keep a promise.

·         Rude behavior/thoughtlessness: insulting or insensitive remarks; loud or boorish behavior; overindulgence in food or drink; children’s or pets’ misbehavior; indiscretions such as giving out personal information, repeating rumors, breaking a confidence; omissions such as failing to include someone in an invitation or mention a name in a publication.

NOTE: A routine apology may not be appropriate for a situation that might involve liability or legal action, such as property damage, personal injury or sexual harassment. If your apology might be legally actionable, check with your attorney before you write anything, then keep a copy of what you write.


·         Write as soon as possible. Procrastination not only makes the task more difficult, it may require two apologies – one for the original incident, another for the delay.

·         Summarize the situation and apologize for it. In most cases the best words to use are “I/we apologize” or “I’m/we’re sorry."

·         Mention extenuating circumstances if they are true and substantial; a delayed shipment, natural disaster, sudden family illness. Use caution when offering an explanation; in some cases, it can weaken your apology, especially if it sounds like an excuse or appears to be untrue.

·         When appropriate, convey an understanding of the other person’s position.

·         For a customer complaint, thank the person for bringing the matter to your attention.

·         If possible, tell what corrective action you’re taking, or offer to make amends.

·         Assure the person this won’t happen again.

·         You may want to add a statement hoping for the continuation of the relationship.


·         Apologize for more than the specific event. Avoid broad statements about your or your company’s ineptitude, “I’m so clumsy.” “You know how it is with a bureaucracy.”

·         Use overly dramatic language, “I’ll never forgive myself,” or “You must think our company is one of the worst you’ve ever dealt with.”

·         Attempt to defend yourself or justify your actions. An apology should be unilateral. Stay away from the word “but.” It’s often the preface for an excuse. “I’m sorry, but you have to admit I had a point.”

·         Imply that the other person is at fault. Phrases such as “I’m sorry you’re upset,” or “you know I was only kidding” attempt to shift the blame from the offender to the emotional response of the offended person. In business, it’s better not to write at all than to tell the customer it’s his/her fault (even if it is).

·         Blame the computer, your employees, heavy traffic or your wireless network. Also avoid phrases such as, “These things are bound to happen.”

  • Admit negligence in writing. If there is a question of liability, check with your attorney before writing an apology.


Outline for a note of apology:


Dear Mr. Esch,

Mention the situation and apologize for it

We are very sorry that the Busy Bear you ordered for your grandson arrived damaged last week.

Convey an understanding of the other person's position


I'm sure it was a disappointment to him, especially since your order specified that it was a birthday gift.

Tell what corrective action you're taking


Thank you for letting us know and giving us the opportunity to make amends. Please return the damaged bear to us using the prepaid label that came with the shipment. In the meantime, I am sending a replacement.

Assure the writer the situation won't happen again and express hope for a continued relationship


We've valued your business over the past 10 years and have enjoyed sending toys to the children in your far-flung family. We'll make every effort to ensure that our future shipments arrive safe and sound.





more examples

Dear Mary,
My sincerest apologies for my thoughtless remarks at dinner last night. What seemed to me to be funny comments about our elected officials turned out to be misplaced indeed. I regret the offense I gave to your other guests and can assure you that I will avoid any controversial topics should you invite me to return. I hope you will forgive the lapse of common sense on my part.



Dear John,
I'm so sorry I missed the Tuesday appointment we had scheduled. When I got back to the office, my assistant told me you had already left. Had I double-checked my calendar,  I would have remembered that we had set the date.

My apologies for the oversight. I am so sorry for the inconvenience I caused you. Can we reschedule for next Tuesday at the same time?



Dear Mrs. Parker
We're very sorry that the serving bowls we promised you by October 10th will not arrive until the beginning of December. Our English manufacturer has delayed the production run and will not be shipping until mid-November.

Please let us know if you would like us to cancel your order or keep it open for the later date. Once again, our apologies for the delay.




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