Some people believe that writing an apology letter is a waste of time. They quickly point out three perceived errors in the process. One, writing the letter. Two, signing the letter. Three, mailing the letter.
However, there are occasions when a verbal apology is insufficient.
In customer service and care ministries, I’ve written a lot of apology letters. I have agonized over the tone and phrasing. Most of the letters were well-received by gracious individuals, but not always.
Looking back, I can see why some of my letters of apology failed miserably. I can see myself in most of these mistakes. But, hopefully, I’ve learned something from the experiences.
You will probably wince in pain at some of the mistakes described here. You might even recognize a little bit of yourself in some of these. If you do, don’t worry, we will not leave you hanging but will explore some alternative solutions.
Not expressing remorse, intentional vagueness, making excuses, blame-shifting, conditional statements, and not offering a solution are six of the most common mistakes in writing an apology letter.
An Apology Letter Mistake # 1: No Expression of Remorse or Regret.
Have you ever met someone who was never wrong? They are arrogant, insensitive to others’ feelings, and incapable of handling any criticism. We sometimes call them narcissists (but not to their faces).
Why is it so hard for certain people to admit “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry”? Even when they do apologize, It’s difficult to tell if they’re genuinely sorry or not.
Solution. If appropriate, we should pause to consider what went wrong and express genuine regret. There are situations where we may need outside help to figure out how we contributed to the situation.
An Apology Letter Mistake # 2: Intentional Vagueness.
Have you ever received an apology letter that was clear as mud? You read the letter multiple times and are still unsure what they are apologizing for or why. My wife had occasionally questioned why I apologized when I clearly didn’t understand how I had wronged her. (And she was right.) Is it any wonder that the apology is ineffective and often the source of another conflict?
Solution. Recognize what you specifically did to contribute to the issue. Any apology that requires a lengthy explanation is too vague to be helpful. But you don’t need four pages to say that you were rude and abrupt to the other individual either. “I was wrong for being rude and abrupt” works just fine.
An Apology Letter Mistake # 3: Making Excuses.
You may have encountered the excuse maker. They quickly say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, or I know that I hurt you.” But there is usually a qualifier at the end of the sentence. It sounds like this:
I’m sorry, but.
I was wrong, but.
I know I hurt you, but.
The ‘but’ at the end of every sentence is confusing; are they apologizing or not? Sadly, we may not recognize that we have said the word ‘but” when we apologize. (I need a tape recorder to catch it.)
Solution. If applicable, quit making excuses and focus on what was done and address it head-on.
An Apology Letter Mistake # 4: Shifting Blame.
Some people are masters of the blame game. Someone else is always to blame. They’ll say things like, “Please accept my apologies for the incident. But I don’t believe that it’s my fault. Someone else is to blame.” They will occasionally point the finger at someone else or even suggest that the letter’s recipient is at least partially responsible.
Solution. If applicable, review your apology letter and remove any reference or inference that blames someone for what happened. Don’t skip this step.
An Apology Letter Mistake # 5: Offering a Conditional Apology.
This person’s apology letters contain several conditional phrases. It’s like reading a contract, with each paragraph ending with a clarifying assertion that contradicts the one before it.
A conditional apology is an invitation to additional conflict. So don’t be surprised if they respond in anger.
Solution. If applicable, review your letter and remove the word ‘but”. Next, examine the sentences that contain conditional promises or the word ‘if.’ Say what you will do and then do it.
An Apology Letter Mistake # 6: No plan for resolution or avoiding the issue in the future.
This individual apologizes frequently and promptly, often for the same infraction. They do not, however, have a strategy in place to address the issue or their conduct.
They also prefer to minimize the consequences of their misbehavior. Rather, they’ll remark, “It could have been much worse, or there was no harm done, so what’s the big deal? Can’t you just get over it?”
You have to question why they bother to apologize if they intend to injure someone in the same way in the near future.
Solution. If applicable, explain what you are doing to resolve the issue and the steps you will take to avoid this situation in the future.
Bonus tip: Before you send the letter have someone else review it for tone, clarity, and specificity.
Call to Action
Is there someone you need to write an apology letter to this week? Hopefully, this article will help you walk through it.