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

Then, Write a Handwritten Note

Seriously. People really respond to this. Email, social media, and private messages are fast and easy. And as such, they mean very little. Ditch the web. Write a real note because it’s personal and shows people you care.

MG went one step further. He bought a box of beautiful, blank Crane stationery cards with lined envelopes. Then he practiced handwriting which, being a millennial, he had only done once or twice in his life. He drafted note after note. His fingers were tired. His eyes were strained, but he kept writing until his handwriting was perfect and his apology targeted every apology language. 

Then, he set out to really make restitution with one important addition. A gift. 

Find a Gift—A Really Good Gift

The restitution apology language asks the wrong-doer to pay for their error. That can mean more than just giving someone a card. You may want to find an item that will be really meaningful for them. If they love Oreo Ice Cream cake, for example, you can have a surprise cake delivered to their office for them to share with their co-workers. That’s a hint, by the way.

Intern MG decided to go out and get one of those edible fruit arrangements. He figured if Alex likes raspberry smoothies, a fruit sculpture in the shape of a deluxe office park would be the way straight to Alex’s heart. 

There’s only one step left. Remember, we’re not just apologizing. We’re apologizing in a way that not only counteracts an initial bad impression, but actually turns the apology into a good impression. So yes, you’re going to deliver this apology in person.

Rehearse and Deliver

You have it in writing. Now, rehearse your apology until you can deliver it naturally and include all five apology languages. MG rehearsed in front of the break room mirror. He looked so serious and sincere. He didn’t know it was a one-way mirror, and won’t he be surprised when he checks Instagram tomorrow morning!

Then, deliver your apology, your note, and your gift in person. Why in person? Because the currency here is time. If you wasted their time, you’re demonstrating your willingness to spend a significant amount of your own to make it right. If you show up in person with a gift and handwritten note, it means you not only took the time to prepare the pieces of the apology, but to bring it in person as well.

If you can’t deliver it in person, use a webcam and shoot a quick 2–3 minute video. If they see your face even on a video, they know you exist and that you’re a human who feels bad.

Intern MG set off to Alex’s office, rehearsing all the way up to the notorious 80th floor. Twenty minutes later, he came out beaming. “Alex said my apology was so impressive that it’s become the talk of the office! Plus, we have a tour of the best new office space in the city scheduled for next week. I’m going to reward myself by organizing my desk and writing a TPS report! Yay!”

Is this overkill? You be the judge. When you need to turn around a bad impression with an apology, email doesn’t cut it. Be willing to pull out all the stops. Use all five apology languages, a handwritten note, a meaningful gift and in-person apology. Not only will you send the message that you’re sorry, but the way you send it will leave a deep, lasting, positive impression.

This is Stever Robbins. I run webinars and other programs to help people be Extraordinarily Productive, and build extraordinary careers. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com

Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins 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.