People can be messy creatures…
There are times when we get overwhelmed by our emotions, say things we don’t mean, or do things that we later regret.
And sometimes we are just trying to make a good choice out of all bad choices.
The messiness of humanity is something that comes into play in every genuine, healthy relationship that we have, because no one makes good choices all of the time.
That makes the ability to both give and accept an apology such important skills to develop.
And they are skills, because it does take some effort to accept an apology and work through whatever harm was caused by both parties.
The person who committed the wrong can work to fix the external harm that was done, but the internal work is something we can only do for ourselves to process the hurt and let it go.
There is a process and some considerations to accepting an apology.
- No One Is Owed Forgiveness
- Are You Ready To Accept An Apology And Forgive?
- Paving The Way To Forgiveness
- What If Forgiveness Isn’t Possible?
- 7 Ways to Give An Apology & 4 Ways to Accept One
- Sorry for the Late Reply: How to Apologize for a Delayed Response
- Does a slow response invariably require you to be sorry?
- Make clear that you do, in fact, care about responding late.
- Better late than never, we hope?
- It’s no fun to be the bearer of bad news, and worse still to do it slowly.
- If all else fails, mark April 30th on your calendar
- 01. Appreciation
- 02. Acceptance
- 03. Agreement
- 04. Accountability
- 05. Affection
- When to Send an Email Apology
- The “Sorry, I was out of the office” Email
- The “Sorry, I was gathering information” Email
- The “Sorry, my retrograde email client marked your email as spam” Email
- The “Sorry, I’ve got a new job/had a baby/shipped out with the Navy” Email
- The “Sorry not sorry” Email
- The “Hi, it’s April the 30th” Email
- How to Say “Sorry for the Late Reply”
No One Is Owed Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a powerful thing.
It can help lift a heavy weight off of the shoulders of the person who both committed the wrong and has been wronged.
In a healthy relationship, this should be a process of reconciliation and healing for both parties.
Unfortunately, not all relationships are healthy and there are ways in which a manipulator will weaponize an apology to excuse themselves of their guilt with zero care or consideration to the person they have wronged.
An easy way to identify this behavior is to always remember, you do not owe anyone your forgiveness.
Forgiveness is something that a person requests from someone they have wronged.
They do not demand it.
They do not bully you into giving it.
They do not try to manipulate you into giving it.
They ask for it.
A sincere request for forgiveness should be coming from a genuine place of remorse, which is usually easy to see in body language and the way the person asks for that forgiveness.
Are they treating the situation with the respect it deserves?
Do they seem like they care at all about how you feel or how their actions harmed you?
Or are they treating the situation with disinterest or trying to press you into forgiving them?
A disinterest in how a person’s actions affect you is a red flag that they may not genuinely respect or care about your well-being.
And while it is true that the world can be a callous place, you don’t want to surround yourself with people like that and call them friends and family, otherwise you just end up as their emotional punching bag.
You don’t have to forgive anyone if you don’t feel that they deserve it.
In fact, you may find that you’re not ready to extend forgiveness even with someone who is coming from a genuine place.
You may also like (article continues below):
- How To Apologize Sincerely And Properly
- Why Some People Never Apologize Or Admit They Are Wrong (And How To Deal With Them)
- How To Forgive Yourself: 17 No Bullsh*t Tips!
- How To Make Up After A Fight And Stop Arguing In Your Relationship
- 9 Ways Of Dealing With Betrayal And Healing From The Hurt
Are You Ready To Accept An Apology And Forgive?
What role does accepting an apology play in a request for forgiveness?
It is for the person who was wronged to be able to communicate that their emotions are in a place where they are either resolved or do not need much further attention to resolve them.
That emotional resolution may not be a clean or simple process depending on the severity of the harmful action.
Unresolved anger, stubbornness, and pride can all affect one’s ability to give or receive an apology.
Though there are some things that the person who committed the wrong can try to fix, it doesn’t mean it will erase all of the hurt that came from those actions.
At the end of the day, no one else lives in your head and has the means to sort through these things when the time comes.
It’s not a good idea to accept an apology if you’re still holding on to anger and hurt from the action.
By the time forgiveness is offered, the emotions should be mostly managed and dealt with between both parties otherwise they will quietly fester, cause resentment, and resurface much later down the road.
And the situation is going to be much worse later when that resentment and anger finally does resurface.
An apology should only be accepted when you’ve processed the hurt to the point where you can let the anger go.
That can take some time depending on the action and severity.
A good way to examine the situation is to determine if the harm was the result of calculated maliciousness or a mistake.
It’s much easier to work through a hurt that was the result of a mistake or miscommunication, because we all have those from time to time.
But calculated maliciousness? That’s something that may not be worth forgiving or may take much longer to resolve.
What do you say if you are not ready to accept an apology and move forward? Here are a couple simple options that may be appropriate to the situation:
I don’t feel I’m in the right place emotionally to forgive you right now.
It doesn’t seem like you are genuinely sorry for what you did to me.
But if you do feel ready and able to accept an apology, try to avoid saying “that’s okay.”
What they did is not okay and it is important not to make them think it is.
Here are a couple of effective ways of telling someone you accept their apology:
I accept your apology and can see that you are truly sorry. Thank you.
Thank you. I hope we can put this behind us and pick up where we left off.
Paving The Way To Forgiveness
The person who caused the harm is likely going to need to put in some work to help facilitate forgiveness.
That work might be personal growth of their own, changing behavior to ensure that the harm doesn’t happen again, or fixing any damage that their actions might have caused.
An apology with no action behind it is essentially meaningless.
Words are the easiest thing in the world, because you can tell anyone anything for any reason at all with little effort.
Actions speak louder because they tend to require effort and sacrifice, which someone who is motivated to seek forgiveness will willingly engage in if they genuinely want to mend the harm that they caused.
The process can be smoothed by giving yourself time to assess the situation and decide if there is anything that can be done to help with your healing.
Don’t expect the other person to just know what they did was wrong.
They may not realize that their actions were hurtful.
They may not find those particular actions hurtful if the roles were reversed.
Everyone has different emotional tolerances.
What If Forgiveness Isn’t Possible?
Not every wrong can be righted nor every harm forgiven.
Sometimes an action will just be too much to attempt to forgive, even if the person asking is genuinely remorseful for their actions.
Some harms can take years of therapy and internal work to come to terms with. Things like bad breakups, a rough childhood, or abusive relationships.
There are a lot of messages out there about how forgiveness helps with the healing process.
The problem is that forgiveness isn’t really the right word for that process.
Acceptance is a better word.
And coming to terms with a situation or harmful actions of another person can be rolled into forgiveness, but it may not look as clean and neat as someone asking for forgiveness and you giving it.
You may also find that you are able to forgive the person for their transgressions, but you no longer trust them or want them in your life…
…particularly if they apologize and go right back to doing whatever wrong they were doing.
That’s okay, too.
Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that the damage is erased and forgotten. Nor should it be.
People come and go in our lives. Not everyone is meant to be there forever.
Sometimes, these situations are there to help shape us, learn more about ourselves and the world.
And sometimes things are just senseless, painful, and don’t have a clean resolution. That’s just the way it goes.
But, the good news is that you can strengthen your relationships with other people by working through these kinds of hiccups and working toward a meaningful resolution.
A lot of people won’t necessarily get everything right, but it is a situation where the effort is more meaningful than the results.
The effort of processing the emotions and working together toward a resolution helps to build stronger bonds.
7 Ways to Give An Apology & 4 Ways to Accept One
When I was seven and preparing for my First Communion, we were expected to go to Confession first. Back in the sixties that was a scary prospect, involving a dark booth, hell’s fire and spilling your guts to a shadow behind a screen. The only thing my seven-year-old self could come up with to confess was the time I stole a fancy little brush from Joyce Weber, my friend from down the street. I coveted that pink and blue plastic brush. My mom had already marched me over to Joyce’s house to hand the brush back and apologize. What more penance could there possibly be?
Seven ways to apologize:
- Don’t get defensive and be all, “I don’t have anything to apologize for!” Think about it.
- On your knees, groveling. Usually reserved for extreme transgressions like an affair. In that case, expect to grovel a long time but not forever.
- From the heart. When my son was three years old and banged his little sister on the head with Buzz Lightyear, my mother witnessed his apology. “That’s not a sincere apology,” she said. “He should mean it.” Well, he was three. “Form first,” I said. “We’ll work on sincerity later.” By the time he was five or so I figured he should be able to understand the concept of meaning it.
- With candy and flowers. Only to open the door or after the apology has been accepted, as a thank you. Do not expect treats to substitute for sincerity. No, not even a tennis bracelet.
- Face to face is best. And hardest. As my friend Steve said on Twitter, “Apologizing sucks.” There’s no way around it. A phone call comes in second. Email or direct message could work, as long as it’s guaranteed private. A handwritten letter is better, in my opinion. The writing needs to be carefully thought out when the advantage of voice and body language is absent. Texting an apology? You’ve got me there. Maybe for a 14-year-old? I don’t know, it may be a generational thing. I wouldn’t recommend it.
- Stick to the issue at hand. Don’t apologize for all the sins of the past. That can smack of insincerity. (If all the sins of the past is the issue, one apology won’t cover it. You probably need a mediator, like a pastor or a therapist.)
- Say you’re sorry once, genuinely said, with all the sincerity you can muster. Then let it go. Like a message in a bottle, send it off, be patient and hope it lands in receptive hands.
Receiving an apology isn’t easy either.
My mother wouldn’t allow me to apologize to her. Yes, my mother had a double standard regarding apologies. She was a complicated woman. She was of the ‘love is never having to say you’re sorry’ school, but only when it came to hurting her feelings, not those of others. Excuse me, but I always thought that was so much doggy doodoo. If you can’t say you’re sorry to those you love, who could you say it to? What was I missing here? It was crazy-making.
As the one usually doing the apologizing, this is what I appreciate from the person I’ve hurt:
- Be direct with me. Please. There is nothing in this world worse than a cold shoulder, or finding out from someone else. “You should know what you did!” is a hopeless statement. I know I have a bugaboo about this because that’s what my mom would say. I could never get mad at her for fear of her cold shoulder. For that reason I really appreciate directness. Tell me you are mad and why. Give me a clue and the opportunity to make amends. It hurts on both sides, but it’s an acute pain from which healing can begin.
- Don’t drag it out. The opposite of being direct could be stewing silently or nagging endlessly. If an apology is justified, wait for it.
- Have an open heart. There are usually two or more ways to look at a thing. Hopefully, once the white heat of anger and hurt burns out a bit you can poke around and see if you had any part in the problem. Try seeing it from your transgressor’s point of view, or from God’s. Compassion doesn’t replace the apology; it does make it easier to hear.
- Accept the apology when it’s sincerely given. You can tell the difference. If it wasn’t given honestly, there was no apology, thus nothing to accept. I’m not in favor of flip phrases like, “Oh forget it,” “You don’t have to apologize,” “It was nothing.” It’s too easy to go there when everyone is clearly uncomfortable. But you both know it really was something. A simple “Thank you,” followed by the offer of a stiff drink, usually works best.
Giving and accepting an apology with grace is just that. It’s a blessed state for you both: For the apologizer, because you chose to allow yourself to be vulnerable rather than get defensive; for the one who accepted the apology, because you used your power over a vulnerable soul with generosity of spirit instead of twisting the knife.
What a relief!
What about forgiveness? For most of us humans, forgiveness is another matter, involving trust, and that takes time to regenerate after a bad hurt. What do you think?
Photo courtesy of Xavier Mazellier via Flickr
7 Ways to Give An Apology & 4 Ways to Accept One
Image: Suzy Hazelwood (Pexels)
Heartfelt apologies can be tough; admitting you were wrong requires introspection, humbling yourself, being vulnerable. But the gracelessness of the person accepting the apology too often exacerbates an already uncomfortable situation. Redditor u/shakakhon posted in r/LifeProHacks about the worst way to react to an apology:
If you’re in an argument with someone and they admit to being wrong, don’t belittle or rub their nose in it. This can cause people to dig into false beliefs out of misplaced pride or the hope of saving face. It takes courage to admit when you’re wrong and shouldn’t be looked down upon.
Don’t be a sore winner! If someone has admitted they’re wrong, that’s a moment to reward them. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Here are some ideas for when and how to accept apologies so that the conflict is resolved in a healthy way.
Decide if you really accept their apology
There are many degrees to disagreements and wrongdoing. Some offenses really can’t be smoothed over with an apology—maybe this person has been doing the same thing over and over for a long time and hasn’t changed their behavior. Maybe what they did this time was so bad it changed how you feel about them forever. Maybe the apology is bad, and the apologizer isn’t taking full responsibility for their actions.
If you really can’t accept an apology, don’t pretend to while continuing to simmer with resentment. There are some situations where it can be hard or impossible to reject an apology—for instance, in a workplace scenario. But in your personal life, you are under no obligation to accept a lukewarm “I’m sorry.” Apologies are a step towards repairing a relationship. If it’s not a relationship you want, let it go.
Understand your own vulnerability
Apologies usually occur in the wake tumultuous feelings; you got heated, they got heated. Even if I’m in the right, I find I often feel embarrassed when it’s time to make up. It’s partly because I was showing how much I cared about something during the conflict. It’s easy to feel vulnerable when we’re emotional, and feeling vulnerable can make us lash out further, even in response to someone’s efforts to make things right.
We can get caught up in being self-righteousness, a powerful feeling: you’re in the right! You may not want to let go of that position. If you find yourself reacting negatively to a sincere apology, acknowledge to yourself the ways it makes you feel vulnerable. That might help you understand if you’re still mad at the other person, or just afraid of your feelings.
Give yourself time
If you’re really upset about something, saying “No big deal!” minimizes your feelings, feelings that are likely to pop up again at some later point. If you need time after an apology, you can say so. For example, “Thank you for apologizing, but I need some time and space.”
Let yourself cool down—I think it’s helpful to ask if you can text or call later. That way, you don’t have to make some grand gesture to indicate you’re ready to reconnect. You can just reach out and say hello and take it from there. Generally, if people are making a good faith effort to repair a wrong, they’ll understand and back off. If not, well, go back to my first point about whether or not this is a relationship you want to fix.
What else you can say
“I accept your apology,” is a very formal way of responding to an apology, but it’s what we’re trained to say.
“It’s okay,” is also a pretty common (more casual) response, but as we’ve discussed, sometimes it’s not okay. Here are some ideas for what you might say when you want to accept someone’s apology without being disingenuous about how you feel. Some might be more appropriate for friends and family and others for work scenarios:
- Thank you for saying that. I was upset about ___, and I’m glad you understand that. Let’s move on.
- I appreciate your apology. I’m still mad, but I won’t be eventually.
- I understand, everyone makes mistakes.
Share your own responses in the comments.
Admit your part in the argument
At times, only one person is completely and totally wrong. More often, two people have a conflict where they both kind of act like jerks, but one is a bit more of a jerk than the other. You can take responsibility for your bad behavior in a fight without making the whole altercation your fault. Tell the apologizer, “Thanks for apologizing. I wish you hadn’t done ___, it’s true, but I also wish I hadn’t done ___ .”
Sorry for the Late Reply: How to Apologize for a Delayed Response
You don’t always respond to emails right away. In fact, sometimes you put them off until the next day, the next week, or—downcast gaze—the next month. At some point the calculus shifts from “Can I somehow compose an email that justifies my glacially slow response-time?” to “Would it be easier to just fake my death instead?”
While it doesn’t look or feel great, sometimes you have to own up to sleeping on someone’s message. Maybe it’s a professional contact you can’t afford to leave feeling forgotten, or a simple case of procrastination that’s gradually snowballed into full-on dread. Whatever the cause, we have some ideas for ways to break the silence and apologize for a late reply.
Your writing, at its best. Be the best writer in the office. Get Grammarly
Does a slow response invariably require you to be sorry?
If you work in a fast-breaking, deadline-driven profession, you routinely email people back instantly. But that’s not always a realistic expectation, particularly when what’s at stake is the opposite of urgent. Being human doesn’t always necessitate an apology.
Say you get an email along the lines of “Hey friendly contact, could we meet up for coffee next week and free-associate about our industry?” While connections like this can be valuable, they probably won’t wither if you take a couple decadently unhurried days to respond.
In such cases, charitably assume these people get it. Skip past “sorry for the late reply” and cut straight to what matters: “Sounds good, and thanks for reaching out—How’s Thursday?”
Make clear that you do, in fact, care about responding late.
Not everything that lands in your inbox requires a reply, like, ever. Seriously. Sometimes though, even if it’s not essential, a laggy response is better than none at all.
Take the example of a former client or colleague who saw your new job title and took a few seconds to dash off a kind congratulatory note. If you didn’t respond at the very moment that email arrived, it’s nothing to feel guilty over. But if you never follow up, you might end up kicking yourself months later, whenever you need to refer a contact to them, or have a favor to ask. Try something like this:
Thank you so much for your thoughtful note last month! Also, my apologies for the slow reply; transitioning into this new role has been a little overwhelming, but I’m excited.
By the way, I recall you mentioning plans to launch a new campaign in the next few months—How’s that going? I’d love to hear more about it next time we get a chance to catch up…
That last part intentionally turns the interest back toward the person who wrote to you, since they took the time send their congratulations. After all, you don’t want your message back to read as wholly self-involved and oblivious, right?
Better late than never, we hope?
All right, so someone asked you for something. They needed some documents, or help finding a particular contact, and—argh—you dropped the ball. It happens. Freshen up your karma by showing this person that’s not what you’re about; acknowledge it and look for ways to be helpful. Like so:
Sorry for the delayed response. It took some time to find the reports you requested to compare against last year’s data, and your message got lost in the shuffle for a few days. I’m now attaching both documents as PDFs. Also, our marketing director has been on the road, but if you like, I can schedule a conversation with him after he gets back tomorrow.
Please let me know if that works, or if there’s anything else I can do to be helpful going forward.
Again, you’re owning the delay up front and getting the apology out of the way, then establishing that “indifferent relaxer” is not your default mode at work.
It’s no fun to be the bearer of bad news, and worse still to do it slowly.
Occasionally, you may have to tell someone they didn’t get the job, or that you’ve decided not to move forward on the project they proposed. Once you’re sure this is the case, if you can help it, don’t leave them in torturous suspense for weeks on end.
That said, if you’re past the ounce-of-prevention stage and are now shopping instead for a pound of cure, here’s a rough idea of how to get it over with:
My sincere apologies for the slow reply; I’d hoped to get back to you sooner. We very much enjoyed having you here for the job interview, as well as our conversation over lunch, but have decided to move forward with another candidate.
Given your extensive credentials and sterling reputation, we’d love to keep you in mind for other positions that might open up in the future. I’d also be happy to refer you to others in the industry who might be hiring. Let me know if I can put you in touch.
As ever, there’s not much use in belaboring how overdue your response is—own it, get to the point, and look for ways to make the recipient feel like they matter.
If all else fails, mark April 30th on your calendar
In recent years, April 30th has become something like a holiday for chronic email procrastinators. Best known as “Email Debt Forgiveness Day,” it’s an annual free pass to finally send all those messages you’ve put off for way too long, without worrying about whether you seem rude or have a decent excuse.
Then again, why wait until the end of April? Close out a few of those email obligations now, and you might feel better that much sooner.
People rarely look at it this way, but apologies are actually opportunities. When executed well, they can deepen a relationship and bring you closer than ever before. But the apology is only half of the equation. In order for a relationship to be restored, the person receiving the apology needs to answer.
Answering an apology in the right ways can significantly strengthen the bond between the people involved. As a therapist, I encourage couples to spend as much time on the answer as the apology itself.
So the next time your significant other offers you a sincere attempt at reconciliation and repair and asks for your forgiveness, try to remember that if you express these five things, you can better repair and even enhance the relationship.
Just like with apology, we focus on a bunch of A-words as part of the process:
The first thing you need to do when your partner apologizes is offer some appreciation. The simplest way is to say “Thank you . . . ” Thank them for making the effort. Thank them for being aware of your pain. Remind yourself that the apology may have been difficult and likely required tapping into some humility. Respond to their humility with grace and gratitude, if only to soften your own pain by trying to move beyond it.
Once you express your appreciation to your partner, it’s time to accept the apology—or not. Yeah, that’s right. Acceptance is ideal, but you may still have an unmet need with regard to the issue at hand. If you don’t think you can accept it yet, you can say, “It means a lot that you’re apologizing, but I still need you to understand a little more of my experience.” Remember this isn’t about making someone pay, it’s about repairing a fracture. It’s a chance to make sure things don’t fester. So either accept the apology, or ask for what you still need so that you can accept it. If and when you feel like your injury has been fully acknowledged and understood, let them know their apology has been accepted.
This is a subtle but ultimately essential piece for answering an apology. Most of the pain that lingers in a relationship is because people don’t agree about what happened. It’s rare, of course, that two people will ever have the same perspective on a given event, but that’s not what I mean by agreement. Agreement is when two people understand that something happened, it sucked, it damaged the relationship, but we fixed it together. We understand its impact, and we’re united in our willingness to put it behind us. We’re committed to protecting one another from something similar in the future. Without agreement, the stories of the conflict can come back to linger, they gain power, they inflict pain—and more pain. Minimally, both parties should at least agree that they don’t want to entertain that pain.
Obviously, any apology that doesn’t include the promise for change—or at least hope for it—will ring hollow. So to make sure that change actually happens, focus on how you and your partner can create accountability to help you avoid future conflict. Address the question: How will you get ahead of similar issues in the future and protect the relationship from situations that may feel dangerously familiar? Because accountability is at the heart of any committed relationship, you should feel some sense of responsibility for being on the hook for one another.
When responding to an apology—your answer should include some warmth. More importantly, it’s appropriate and even critical to reinforce physical intimacy. (Physical intimacy is different from sexual intimacy, but there’s a reason that “makeup sex” is helpful in marriage, too.) Physical, sexual, and even verbal affection (e.g., “I love you”) can be a powerful sealant in the apology and answering process. It reminds you and your partner that, in the end, you both want the same thing: more closeness and connection.
The pathway to repair isn’t complicated, but it does take some time and commitment to both your partner and to your relationship. Ultimately, I really do think that an injury to any relationship can be a good thing when the emphasis is on restoration. So if someone you love has hurt you, consider working through these steps to do your part in that process.
We all have them. Some people are chronic offenders. We’re betting there’s at least one you’re thinking about right now. Unanswered emails. Those messages that you never seem to find the time for. No matter how often you snooze them or put them at the top of your to-do list, something always seems to get in the way. They might date back a week, a month, maybe even a year. Sometimes they never get answered at all.
Listen, we get it. You’re busy. But being consistently late with your email replies, or simply never replying at all, is a recipe for disaster. Bad habits die hard—and sooner or later you’re going to offend the wrong person. It could be a client, a customer, your boss, or even your eternally tolerant yoga teacher—after all, even the most patient of people will only stand being ignored for so long.
But what to do when you’ve got a growing list of unanswered emails? Well, you could either let them gather digital dust sitting in your inbox, compounding the issue and frustrating your contacts, or you could swallow your pride and apologize for the delay. There’s no need to make a big fuss, just tell the truth (or a carefully curated version of the truth) and own that email apology like you would the rest of your emails. Here, we take a look at some of the easiest and most common ways to say sorry through email.
When to Send an Email Apology
If you made a little bit of a flub or a faux pas, before drafting that apology email, ask yourself the following:
- Could my lack of reply harm the recipient?
- If I don’t respond, could it be bad for my business?
If the answer to either of those questions is “yes”, then start tapping away at those keys.
The “Sorry, I was out of the office” Email
Everyone needs to take a break from the office once in a while, and no one is going to begrudge you a little time off. The simplest and easiest way to write a professional apology email then, is to inform your contacts you were not in the office upon receipt.
However, there’s also a proactive element to this one, and creating automatic out-of-office replies to inform anyone who’s trying to contact you while you’re away is the best way to minimize frustration. If you’re feeling uninspired and need a little help crafting that out-of-office message, there are great services that will create them for you–ranging from polished a professional, to cheeky and fun in tone.
Another thing to remember is that this type of email can only be used for short spaces of dead air time. It’s no use telling a prospective client you were out of the office a year after you’ve received the initial email—unless you have a VERY good excuse.
The “Sorry, I was gathering information” Email
It doesn’t matter how much you know or how efficiently you can Google something you don’t, there will always be occasions when the information you need to send an effective reply is simply not available. If this is the case, and you reply in a short-ish space of time, your apology email can simply state you were looking for the relevant documents or files. This type of contrition is particularly useful when writing apology emails to customers, since replying with inadequate or insufficient information is often more frustrating than no reply at all!
The “Sorry, my retrograde email client marked your email as spam” Email
Of course, this would never happen to Spike users. Spike’s approach to email filtering puts any mail considered less important in your “Other” inbox—meaning you’ll see everything at-a-glance and you can decide on whether any particular mail warrants a reply. However, for anyone using traditional email clients, the potential for important email to end up in the wrong folder is still very real. Spam filtering has definitely helped stem the tide of crap we receive in our inboxes every day, but it can also weed out the wrong emails and send them to a long-forgotten folder in your email app—particularly when it comes to new clients or contacts. Most people understand the pain when it comes to the issue of spam, so they’re going to be receptive to your sincere email apology—just remember not to use this one too often, otherwise it simply makes you look incompetent at email management!
We all have lives outside work. Don’t we? Well, when your circumstances change significantly, it’s perfectly understandable to let a few emails slip through the net. This type of email apology might even bring a little happiness to your contacts, so fire away and let everyone know you’re going to be sailing the seven seas as a ship’s cook—or whatever. Of course, the amount of information you share will very much depend on the type of contact, but just remember to apologize sincerely and then share however much or little of the good news as you see fit.
The “Sorry not sorry” Email
Some people think we should stop apologizing for late replies entirely. After all, what’s a few days between friends/colleagues/hard-won clients? Well, you’ll have to judge each of those by their own merits and decide on exactly who warrants one and who doesn’t. Apology emails to the boss, for instance, are likely to be more important than to your colleague organizing post-work drinks. However, there’s always one contact in your list who just can’t help sending email after email, constantly clogging up your inbox. Well, we suggest you just wait until they’ve finally finished their thought (in 5 or 10 emails over 3 or 4 days) and then compose a single reply. No apology needed!
The “Hi, it’s April the 30th” Email
For those emails that have really been left to rot, then all is not lost. There’s a growing movement to make April 30th “email debt forgiveness” day—letting you deal with all those long-lost emails that you’ve been too scared to reply to until now! So forget the guilt and get replying. People will have no choice but to forgive your tardiness!
Photo: Jeff Kravitz (Getty Images) Jerk WeekJerk WeekHow do you detoxify your timeline? Deal with the boor hogging the squat rack at the gym? Tell a stranger on a plane that no, you won’t swap seats with them? It’s Jerk Week, and we’ve got everything you need to handle the rudest people in life—and advice for what to do when you’re the one in the wrong.
In the span of five days, Saturday Night Live hired and fired comedian Shane Gillis after his use of sexist, homophobic, racist language—including comments that incorporated racial slurs and mocking a Chinese accent—all came to light on social media. In an initial statement, Gillis sort of tried to apologize. “I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries,” he wrote on Twitter. “I sometimes miss … My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”
After facing further criticism, and his eventual firing, Gillis doubled-down on his non-apology. “It feels ridiculous for comedians to be making public statements but here we are. I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can’t be taken away.” While some people, including Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, have accepted Gillis’ statement, sometimes, a bad apology warrants correction.
When you receive a shitty apology from someone, whether it be for a small accident or the use of inappropriate language justified as “comedy,” it’s important to make your point clear—and realize that not everyone is deserving of forgiveness.
Point out the flaw in their apology
If you’ve just received an apology, and still believe that your feelings haven’t been heard or acknowledged, let the person know exactly why you feel unresolved. Perhaps you felt like they qualified the apology (“I’m sorry, but..”) or that it felt mostly insincere (“I’m sorry that you felt this way”). If you hear any language like this—or a flimsy excuse for their behavior (“I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries”)—calmly state why their apology feels unsatisfactory and reiterate your point.
A genuine apology should feel straightforward and express that person’s responsibility for their actions and a commitment not to make the same mistake in the future. (“I fucked up” is a good start.) And be careful to listen for an explanation that doesn’t absolve them of responsibility. “I always explain when I apologize, how else is my apology supposed to be genuine?” one user on a recent Reddit thread writes. “I want you to understand why I did what I did, what led me to it, and why/how I understand that I was wrong. Intent matters with mistakes.”
You should never experience any doubt about its authenticity, either. Their tone during an apology should convey its sincerity; if it feels robotic, it’s probably not the apology you want. If it feels remorseful and expresses regret, perhaps it’s genuine, but only you can be the judge of that.
Allow them an opportunity to apologize again
Perhaps the person who owes you an apology wasn’t aware of how they hurt or offended you or they didn’t hear everything you expressed. Once you’ve reiterated your point, you’ll have to afford them the chance to actually apologize (and perhaps, better understand how and why you feel unresolved). Of course, some mistakes shouldn’t be that hard for a person to understand (ie. racist jokes), but if someone genuinely seems clueless about what they did wrong, give them a chance to learn, if you’re feeling generous.
On the flip side, keep in mind that you should also be provided time to consider forgiving them; it doesn’t always happen overnight or within a single phone call, so don’t allow someone to pressure you to resolve a dispute immediately.
You don’t have to forgive them
Let’s keep in mind one thing: Whether it’s a bad apology or a heartfelt, genuine one, you are not obliged to forgive anyone. If it’s a small accident, however, like a stranger bumped into you and spilled your coffee, a quick, sincere apology should suffice. “If someone goes through the trouble to actually, sincerely apologize, don’t be a douche about it forever and never forgive them,” u/elaphros writes. “Getting pissed off okay. Holding onto a grudge is not.” Forgiveness in this example should be immediate, or if they’re a total dick, a middle finger is effective, too.
On the other hand, you do not have to accept someone’s apology for a larger transgression, like a record of comedic jokes that use racial slurs or mock accents, for example. You’re entitled to decide when something that bothers you crosses the line, particularly when you feel that a person’s apology stops short of real remorse (or that their history doesn’t provide enough evidence that they won’t make a similar mistake in the future). Does this mean they should be scorned from society forever? Probably not, but forgiveness should be earned. And it’s your decision when to give it.
How to Say “Sorry for the Late Reply”
One of the “truths” about technology is that advances in tech make our lives easier, more productive, and provide us with more leisure time.
It is also true that technology has fundamentally changed many aspects of daily life.
One excellent example of how tech has changed culture can be seen in the workplace.
Until recently, business communication was carried out either in person, on the phone, or via regular mail. Today the use of person-to-person communication, whether face to face on by phone, is decreasing while the use of e-mail and text messages is increasing. In fact, almost 90% of business people state that e-mail is their preferred means of communicating with clients, suppliers, business leaders and organizations and staff.
This change has resulted in the average worker receiving an exponentially higher volume of messages on a daily basis. The sheer number of messages received means that workers need to learn new skills in terms of prioritizing and responding to emails, plus learn the skills and best practices for dealing with the inevitable delayed response.
The average office worker receives about 90 emails a day and typically generates 40 outgoing messages. This volume, which has been steadily increasing year after year, makes it impractical for workers to respond to each email right away.
Most workers have an informal system in place for dealing with emails. Typically, the worker will set aside emails, which can be answered in the next day or so. Sometimes this turns into the next week, or embarrassingly, the next month. While it may be tempting to simply not respond rather than to contact the sender after a somewhat inexcusable about of time, modern business etiquette generally requires a response.
Start your English Learning Online with EF English Live. Sign up for a free 14 day trial! Whatever your goals, our online English course guarantees your success.
While other aspects do contribute to how you address a delayed response in general the main factors are who the sender is and the subject of the email or text.
Here are some examples for responding to specific types of emails and texts in business English, along with some tips to help manage your inbox to reduce the chance of missing an email.
Response to casual business contact
Networking has become an important part of today’s business environment. If a casual contact reaches out to suggest meeting over coffee to discuss business in general and just catch up, the odds are that a slight delay in responding is acceptable.
When answering, it is fine to basically skip an apology and suggest a day to meet.
Emails from former clients or colleagues
It is not unusual to get a note from former clients or colleagues that fall into the “just checking in” category. Often these emails will be congratulatory in nature or reference some new work project. These emails do not cry out for an immediate response but should always be answered.
Here a direct response is best.
Thanks for you note from last week . This new project has me a bit overwhelmed so I apologize for the delay.
Then turn the conversation back to them by asking about a specific project they are involved with or news about their business and how you would like to hear how that is progressing.
Request for information
While we try to answer requests for information right away, these can and do fall through the cracks.
Your response to these emails requires your apology to be upfront and straightforward, something along the lines of “Sorry for the delay in responding, your email was lost in the shuffle.” Follow up by attaching the documents or information they requested with the response.
Response to a Business Text
Text messages are generally very informal yet most senders seem to expect an almost immediate reply. How you handle the response depends a great deal on the sender, but in general it’s best to simply apologize for the delay with any relevant reason, such as not having your phone with you, being overwhelmed with a project, or the simple fact that the message was lost in your inbox.
Tips for handling email
One of the best ways to avoid having to send “sorry for the delay” emails is by using the best practices for handling email.
Here are some tips:
- Set aside some specific times of the day to read and respond to emails. Many professionals will handle email three times per day; such as at 9AM, Noon, and 4PM. Otherwise they leave their email program closed. Some so as far as to have and auto-reply set which notes the times they check emails with instructions to call if the need is urgent.
- Delete mailing lists subscriptions that are not relevant or request a daily or weekly digest rather than multiple emails per day.
- Set up folders for emails that require additional time to handle. For example if a co-worker, manager or client requests information, respond that you are working on the request and will have the information as soon as possible or at a specific time. Then place the email in your “pending” folder.
- Check your spam folder. It is not usual for legitimate business email to end up in a spam folder. Be sure to check it at least once per day.
- Use the delete button a lot. Delete promotional, spam, or irrelevant e-mails immediately. Set up an archive folder for those, which should be saved for your records or future reference.
Article related: English vocabulary for setting business and career goals