Has anyone ever said anything to you at work that was really hurtful or snarky? It’s an experience we can all relate to. Sometimes it’s an intentional slight or power-play. But here’s the thing. More often, it’s an unplanned quip and your colleague wishes they could take it back. There are a couple of different ways you can go when this happens. Personally, I advise going the civilized route—if they apologize, accept. Accepting apologies at work is a good “people equation” skill to master because it maintains relationships and enhances your professionalism.
Professionals Accept Apologies Graciously
If you act graciously when you’re on the receiving end of a colleague’s blunder, you maintain your professionalism. I’m not talking about allowing someone to treat you poorly — such as intentional snide comments, tirades or any form of workplace bullying. That’s a different topic altogether and not acceptable behavior. Period.
No, I’m talking about those times when someone tried to be funny, but wasn’t. Or, their attempt at edgy repartee came out sounding mean. Or any number of other things that get said in the workplace by a decent person who contracted a temporary case of foot-in-mouth disease.
It happens. They’re mortified. You’re caught off guard. If you can manage a gracious response then you will have succeeded in stopping what could turn into resentment between you and your colleague. And let’s be honest. Have you ever seen a grudge match that turns out well?
[Related: Lost your cool? Here’s how to recover from an emotional outburst]
Granting Forgiveness is Good for You
Accepting an apology goes beyond graciousness and professionalism. When you extend forgiveness, you help repair a potential rift in your relationship. And, you’ve helped preserve another person’s dignity. Moreover, research shows that there are benefits to forgiving someone. According to the Mayo Clinic, letting go of grudges can help you reduce stress, lower your blood pressure and improve your immune system. So consider “letting it go” and acknowledging their apology. Who knew that a simple “I accept your apology” may have health benefits for you as well?
Examples of How to Accept an Apology at Work
Professional responses might include:
- “I know you didn’t mean to be hurtful. I accept your apology.”
- “It’s OK. We all have those days once in a while.”
- “I understand. You’re angry at the situation, not at me.”
- “You seem really irritated about this. Should we take a break and discuss it later?”
It takes courage for the offending speaker to publicly acknowledge the transgression. Tempting as it might be to poke back, resist. Take the high road. Accept the apology — and mean it. After all, wouldn’t you hope they’d do the same for you?
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Post updated 2021
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach says
Nice job Jennifer. I noticed that all your suggestions take the high road.
I love the fact that you separate workplace bullying and constant snide passive aggressive behavior from this. It’s important to set appropriate limits.
What often happens is that people “snipe back”, as you say, because they fear that the person might be starting down a road of treating them badly. Remember, when you take the high road you can always turn to setting limits at any moment. No need to assume from the start that each person has a hidden agenda.
Thanks for this post. I will RT it on Twitter for many to read.
Thanks so much for your feedback– yes, I feel strongly about taking the high road. It seems to be a dying art in some workplaces, but I remain commited to the practice.
To your point about people lashing out– that’s very astute! You are correct that someone can always do boundary-setting if they feel a co-worker is taking advantage of them. Why not give the person the benefit of the doubt the first time it happens?
I agree that it’s much better to accept the apology kindly. If the person is trying to make amends, because even if the apology seems out of character from your perspective, it is progress.