Now you've done it. You've somehow managed to offend someone, step on their toes, or even injure them in some way. The thing about mistakes is that they can't be taken back. They're a stark reminder that we can't go backward, only forward.
However, there is something you can do in an attempt to wipe the slate clean. You can send a sincere apology letter. It might not erase the mistake, but it will open the door to communication and - whether the other party admits it or not - take away some of their pain.
When people wonder how to write an apology letter, they often get stuck right in the opening line. It's hard to know where to begin and how to apologize without sounding desperate or trite. Below, you'll find an outline, as well as a few samples, that'll get you started in writing a sincere letter of apology.
A sincere apology letter comes right out and says what you did wrong. There's no beating around the bush or saying something backhanded like, "I'm sorry you felt hurt." A sincere apology quickly highlights your wrongdoing and then expresses remorse for the misstep.
Beyond this, a sincere apology letter doesn't require groveling. After all, there's no human walking this earth that's immune to mistakes. We all make them. That's why there's no shame in calling attention to your mistake and offering a sincere apology.
This will (hopefully) spark a discussion between you and the person you offended. It will also restore their dignity if they feel burned by your bad behavior. In the end, whether your apology is accepted or not, you can rest assured that you did the right thing by taking responsibility for your actions. You can't control the behavior of others, only your own.
Whether you're drafting an informal apology letter, e-mail, or text to a friend or family member, or a formal apology letter to a colleague, there's a basic format you can follow. Consider this as the basis for your outline:
Express your remorse.
Vow you don't make the same mistake twice.
Since a sincere apology letter "comes out with it," it's best to start with your remorse. You can literally begin with "I'm sorry…" or "I apologize for…" If you're not feeling sincerely sorry for your actions, then this entire exercise is in vain. It will reek of insincerity. You have to be authentic and true in your desire to convey remorse, especially in the opening lines.
Taking responsibility for your actions doesn't mean making excuses. Quite the opposite. You shouldn't bother with excuses because the person who was offended won't want to hear it. Taking responsibility means admitting what you did wrong. Empathize with the person, showing that you can clearly understand why your actions or words were offensive or hurtful.
When you offer amends, see what you can do to make the situation right. If you can offer an olive branch as a way of making things right, now's the time to do it. In the samples below, you'll note that after the writer offers amends, they always offer some sort of an olive branch.
Finally, assure the other party that this mistake won't happen again. Whenever we offend someone, we create a tiny crack in their trust. They worry if you'll be able to hurt them again. This is why it's important to make reassurances in your closing.
Whether you're crafting an informal or formal apology letter, the intent will be the same. You'll want to express your remorse, empathize with the person who was slighted, and make some kind of "grand gesture" to put your words into action. Let's take a look at three samples.
Here is a sample apology letter to a friend or family member. Perhaps you'll e-mail this to them one evening or even text it to them after something bad has happened.
[Express your remorse.] I'm so sorry I hurt your feelings when I said the toy you bought my daughter was garbage. Equally appalling, I told you to buy that toy for Madison, so I really feel awful for offending your kind gesture.
[Take responsibility.] I can only say that I lost control of my temper and lashed out at someone who was just doing a good deed for my daughter on Christmas.
[Offer amends.] I wonder if you'll join us for New Year's Eve. I'd love to have you back at the house again, when I'm in better spirits and behaving better.
[Vow you won't make the same mistake twice.] You can rest assured that I'm going to be working on my anger management and bad manners in the future. You won't have to endure my lashing out ever again.
Now, let's move on to a formal apology letter. This, too, can come in the form of an e-mail to a colleague. Or, perhaps you'll print it out and leave it on their desk. Either way, the premise is quite similar.
The key difference between a personal and professional letter is the tone. A letter to a friend or family member can take on a more casual tone, while a professional apology letter will err on the side of formality.
[Express your remorse.] I apologize for lashing out at you during your presentation yesterday. You spent a lot of time and effort crafting a phenomenal speech and I nitpicked and publicly embarrassed you in front of your peers.
[Take responsibility.] I know that I hurt your feelings when I behaved without any restraint. Beyond that, I made the difficult task of public speaking almost unbearable, when I chastised you like that in the conference room.
[Make amends.] You're a phenomenal speaker and a diligent worker. I had no right ruining a speech you spent many hours creating. I'd like to invite you to lead next month's staff meeting with a presentation on marketing and communication - a topic everyone on staff can benefit from.
[Vow you won't make the same mistake twice.] Please know that I am going to manage my stress better, moving forward. I will take every measure to ensure I never snap at you, or any member of the team, again. If I do, please call me out on it.
Finally, there may come a time when you need to issue a blanket apology or write to someone you've never met. This is often the case when dealing in customer service. Let's say you received a complaint from a customer aimed at one of your associates. Here's a sample letter to help you format your response:
Dear Mr. Smith,
[Express your remorse.] On behalf of Furry Friends, I'd like to offer a sincere apology for your experience with our front office staff. After reviewing our camera footage, I see that Amelia was rude and unprofessional when she made an offhand remark about your dog. You came to us for an enjoyable and professional experience and, instead, we made both you and your dog Rex feel uncomfortable.
[Take responsibility.] Here at Furry Friends, it's our goal to make everyone feel welcome and at home. Amelia's behavior is unacceptable and not at all in line with the standards and principles we uphold as a company. Know that a written warning has been placed in her file and she will be removed from the front desk until she has completed further training.
[Make amends.] I'm grateful you brought this unfortunate event to my attention. I ask you for your forgiveness. We'd love to have you return for Rex's next grooming appointment. Enclosed, you'll find a $50 voucher, which should cover all the expenses.
[Vow you won't make the same mistake twice.] If you choose to visit us again, you have my word it will be an enjoyable experience. I will supervise Rex's entire stay. We hope to see you again!
Felicia Keys, Owner
It can be difficult to issue an apology. You have to swallow your pride and expose your errant behavior. In the same way, it can be difficult for someone to accept an apology. Sometimes people forget we're all susceptible to mistakes and don't offer forgiveness to others. Or, sometimes people have been so hurt by others, they lack the capacity to keep the door open to forgiveness.
As such, you're only responsible for your ability to apologize. You can't expect the other person to forgive you automatically, and certainly not right away. Don't push the issue after you've issued an apology. Try to move on and give them some breathing room to make the next approach.
Either way, a well-written letter opens the door to communication and that's an essential element to any relationship, personal or professional. In the future, if you ever find yourself on the flip side of the coin, here's a guide for writing a complaint letter. It will allow you to remain objective and get your point across without losing your cool - the very thing that sparks many an apology letter.