A while ago a long standing supplier to a business I am associated with really screwed up. They let us down badly on what they had promised us. It cost us money and was a huge inconvenience. It could have been the end of the relationship but it wasn’t. In fact 12 months later the relationship has never been better.


Because the CEO personally involved himself and made such a sincere, heartfelt apology backed by a genuine commitment to fix the problem quickly that we had to give them another chance. I can still recall his exact words – “We screwed up badly and we are really sorry and deeply embarrassed. More than anything we are really sorry and I will personally fix this problem and give you my assurance that it won’t happen again.” And he did. 100%.

I really admire people who are able to apologise as authentically as this. It’s not easy to do and you have to lay yourself bare to do it.  You can’t make excuses or provide a list of all the mitigating circumstances or use the word “but”. Instead you have to accept responsibility and stand there and say “I screwed up and I’m really sorry. Please forgive me and give me another chance. I won’t let you down again.” Then make sure that you don’t.

There are a few important elements in an honest apology:

  • An explanation of what happened and why – without excuses or blame.
  • An acknowledgement of the pain that has been caused.
  • A description of what will be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  • A genuine request for forgiveness.

An honest, unconditional apology is best done quickly when you screw up, miss a deadline or when dealing with a genuine customer complaint. It’s a powerful statement that says a lot about a person and an organisation and what it stands for. It can be painful but if you want to endure and prosper in business knowing how and when to do it is an unavoidable requirement…