Yep, that’s what I thought. Me too.
One of the hallmarks of professionalism is emotional restraint; I pride myself on my ability to zip my lips when needed. But once in awhile, I experience a momentary lapse—times when exasperation or sarcasm gets the best of me and I say something I wish I could take back.
Just as companies are encouraged to have Disaster Recovery Plans, so too, should professionals. There’s no “delete” command on a verbal exchange, but it is possible to reconcile with a colleague who’s the unwitting recipient of your less-than-tactful reply.
At a loss for how to gracefully recover? Here are a few phrases that you might find useful if you have just dished out something you wish you could retract*.
“That did not come out the way I intended. Let me try it again. . .”
“May I have a do-over?”
“That was uncalled for and I apologize.”
“That sounded way better in my head than it did out loud.”
“Wow, that was a snarky comment! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I’m really frustrated and I took it out on you. That’s not fair and I apologize.”
Above all, you must convey your message with a tone of sincerity. Otherwise, you’ll just dig yourself a deeper hole and further erode the trust you’re trying to re-build. Keep this in mind as well: you can only use these phrases so many times before they ring hollow. Stephen Covey is well-known for promoting the concept of the emotional bank account. If you make too many “with drawls” from a co-worker’s emotional bank account, eventually you’ll become overdrawn no matter how sincere your apology is.
What if you’re on the receiving end of the apology? Accept it with grace. You never know when your impulse control will slip a notch and you’ll need to ask for a mulligan. But you’re a professional. So you probably already knew that.
*I’m not talking about tirades, emotional meltdowns or any form of workplace bullying. Those behaviors have no place in a work setting.