How to Apologize for Lost Time

When you’ve screwed up, the best you can do is recover.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #396

We all make mistakes that inconvenience other people (well, I don’t, but it would be a mistake to say so out loud). This screws up our relationship with them, and so … we need to repair it. We need to apologize. In my episode on the five apology languages, we learned that there are many ways to phrase an apology. But when you really screw up and waste someone’s valuable time, just saying “sorry” or “it won’t happen again” doesn’t cut it. We need to make sure the message really gets through when things don’t go according to plan. 

They’re upset because you wasted their time? Demonstrate that you value their time more than yours. Craft an apology that shows significant time and effort. You’ll make an impression that lasts a lifetime.

Mistakes Happen

Because he’s been so good at stepping up to the plate, Bernice asked intern MG to scout possible locations for the Green Growing Things corporate headquarters. He scored a coup, talking his way into a meeting with Alex, the most exclusive real estate agent in town, who normally deals only with the Most Important People In Town. They were meeting on the 80th floor of Strump Tower.

On the day of the meeting, MG woke up early, just to be safe. He put on his best clothes, put on his coat, picked up his phone to check the bus schedule … and ended up on Facebook, in an engaging discussion of the upcoming Presidential election. The next thing he knew, a text message came through from Alex. “Weren’t we supposed to meet at 10? I’m almost done with my raspberry protein smoothie and am heading to my next appointment. You lose, kid.” It was 10:30. Oops.

MG was crushed. He prides himself on never having missed a meeting or an assignment. That’s why we hired him. (That’s also why we hate him. Ha ha. Kidding!) Being practically perfect in every way, he had never let anyone down before. He didn’t know how to do it. His first thought was to call Alex with excuses. “My alarm clock didn’t go off.” “My train stalled.” “The dog ate my homework.” No. No, no, no, no, no.

When someone disappoints you and offers excuses, you never think, “That’s such a good excuse! They’re obviously super-competent!” A good excuse may help counteract a bad impression, but it isn’t going tip the scales in your direction. The right apology, however, will.

Write Out Your Apology Using All Apology Languages

Write out your apology in advance. Make sure it uses all five apology languages. MG wrote “I’m so sorry for missing the meeting. I feel horrible about it, I accept full responsibility, and in the future, I’ll make sure it won’t happen again. Please forgive me.” 

Unless you naturally use all five apology languages, some will come more naturally than others. So actually compose it, making sure you use all five languages.

Once you’ve written your apology, don’t email it! Think about how that looks. Alex got a meeting request from a young millennial. Said millennial then missed the meeting. From Alex’s point of view, MG is just another flaky kid. Getting an emailed apology is exactly, precisely what Alex expects. Because, hey, these days, email is so very, very convenient. 

If someone wasted your time by missing an appointment, getting an email apology is just reinforcing the message that the way they operate is to do whatever’s easiest and the least amount of effort for them.

Write your note out, longhand.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.