Updated on 04.13.09

The Art of the Apology

Trent Hamm

One Saturday during one of my previous employments, I received an interesting phone call from my supervisor. He informed me that one of my coworkers had took a work laptop home with her and that she was unable to log on to the laptop. When I asked what this had to do with me, I learned that the coworker had claimed that I had somehow “tinkered” with the laptop to prevent other people from logging on. Obviously, my supervisor wasn’t particularly thrilled with this – he knew I had sufficient technical skills to do this and also knew I had been involved in the last week with installing some software on the laptop, so he was at least willing to believe the story.

Of course, I had not done any such thing, but I attempted to make amends. I provided my supervisor with all of the passwords and information that was needed to get onto the laptop and fix any access issues.

By Monday, she still hadn’t been able to get onto the laptop and openly accused me to my face in front of the rest of the team of tampering with her work.

By Tuesday, the problem had been resolved: there were several faulty keys on the keyboard, so her attempts at entering passwords were failing. Once the keyboard was replaced, everything worked like a charm.

At the next meeting, our supervisor opened the floor to her to give a public apology to me, since she had basically insulted my character in front of everyone by implying I was tampering with her work. Her “apology”? “I’m sorry that you feel hurt by my attempts to get the laptop working.”

I was just flummoxed by this. Needless to say, I did not trust her at all after that. My supervisor was also shocked, and he helped to ensure that I wouldn’t have to work with her and, within a few months, she had moved on.

If she had stepped back and issued a sincere apology in that situation, her entire situation would have been different. A heartfelt apology would have left me feeling sympathetic for her struggles with work and gone a long way towards repairing any rifts in the workplace, not just between myself and her, but between herself and everyone else there who thought the accusation was a bit over the top. I might not have fully trusted her, but I wouldn’t have felt the need to avoid her, either.

Instead, she chose the insincere route – and it cost her her job and burnt a lot of bridges, too.

Real apologies consist of three parts.

The Accuracy
An apology that actually works is one that shows that you have real insight into what you did wrong and the effects of that mistake. Doing that well takes some introspection and some willingness to admit that you do have specific faults.

When you realize you’re in a position where you need to apologize, step back for a bit and look at the situation. What exactly did you do wrong? It might be easy to point to a specific thing, but is that actually just one little piece of a larger thing? Figure out both pieces and think about what you really should apologize for. Careful consideration almost always leads to a more meaningful apology.

Another big piece of the puzzle is a willingness to fix the problems that caused the faux pas – and to clean up any problems that have resulted from it. Identify those problems – and take a stand on your own to fix them. Actions speak far louder than words, after all, and if you show you’re working to fix the mistake, that often means at least as much as the words in your apology.

The Delivery
There are three key points you need to get across when you deliver your apology.

“I did something wrong.” A real apology is an admission of fault. You made a mistake somewhere along the way – if you had not made a mistake, you would not be apologizing. Most of the time, we’re able to see what we did wrong – and a big part of apologizing for that wrong is an ability and willingness to state that wrong in front of someone else. If someone is encouraging you to apologize to someone else, that means you made a mistake, even if you don’t recognize it – and if you don’t, it’s time for some real introspection.

“What I did hurt you – and I recognize that.” Your fault, the one you admitted to, caused pain or difficulty for someone else. You need to recognize that if you want your apology to matter at all. This is the core of the apology – you’re telling that person that you do actually recognize that your mistake has caused them misfortune, and it is their misfortune that is at the center of the discussion, after all.

“What can I do to make amends?” Most of the time, an apology is sufficient for beginning to rebuild trust. Sometimes, however, more may be needed – perhaps you need to speak to someone else to repair a reputation, or maybe you should fix an item that you broke. Reaching out and offering to make these amends (and if you don’t know what they might be, offering to do what it takes) goes a long way towards cementing the sincerity of your apology.

The Sincerity
Most important of all, if you can’t be authentic about any of the above parts, don’t apologize at all. An insincere apology is transparent and does nothing to repair the situation. All it does is further damage your own reputation, not only in terms of the person you’re “apologizing” to, but to anyone else who hears about it.

Another note: a sincere apology never, ever expects an apology in return. An apology in the form of “I apologize, but I expect you to apologize in return” is not an apology – it’s a request for someone to apologize to you. It’s inauthentic, and everyone involved will see right through it – and think far less of you for having done it.

If you feel you should apologize, but you don’t understand why, don’t attempt an apology. Spend some time in reflection on the situation until you really understand why you’re apologizing. Never apologize until you’re ready – doing it beforehand not only fails the person you’re apologizing to, it fails you as well, with potentially devastating consequences.

That old maxim is still true: if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.

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  1. beloml says:

    Please change “had took” to “had taken” in the first paragraph!

  2. Shymom says:

    How much do grammar police make? Are you paid by the correction? I’d like to get in on that. It’s especially nice that you can do it online and not have to be a PITA in person.

  3. Johanna says:

    “How much do grammar police make?”

    About $30 an hour.

  4. chris says:

    Well, the co-worker certainly seems to be on-par with the times. And the sad thing is, I’m sure that she won’t learn much from the situation, despite the fact that she lost her position over it.

  5. Sarah says:

    I think you’ve got this backwards, Trent. Her apology wasn’t insincere. It was snide, which no doubt reflected her sincere feelings. It was exactly insincerity that was called for in that situation, assuming she couldn’t bring herself to believe she’d done something wrong.

    Of course you should give insincere apologies when necessary. Most of our interactions with other people are driven by insincerity. Our manners are designed to hide our true feelings when they’re inappropriate, not show them. It’s a far better move to be able to fake regret for something (reasonably convincingly) than to refuse to do so. If you can give a reasonable facsimile of an apology, most people are willing to move on. In most situations, that’s all you need.

    I recently had to apologize to someone for something that I think was very much that person’s own doing. However, I like this person and I certainly didn’t intend to hurt them. The situation isn’t likely to recur. So who cares what I really feel about it? There’s no point in adjudicating the merits of the dispute. If I refused to answer, I would have irreparably damaged the relationship. If I expressed my sincere feelings, we doubtless would have argued about it and done more harm than it was worth. Through my insincere, but reasonably convincing, apology, we both can move on. This person believes I respect their feelings and is reassured I wasn’t out to harm them, which is what they really wanted, I think.

  6. DThem says:

    Grammar aside, the information in this post applies to all aspects of life, not only in world of work. However, there are crazy people in the world and nothing anyone says or does will change them. Unfortunately, I know a couple of them. The steps of sincere apology are perfectly described in your post and “those” people should abide, but won’t.

  7. SueO says:

    Trent, one of the most liberating events in my life was when I learned how far I could go in life by not only admitting that I made a mistake but apologizing for my mistake to whomever was most affected. After that, it became much easier to apologize AND to not worry (most of the time) about getting an apology from someone else.

    In your case, there was obviously something quite wrong with this coworker, and either she was quite young and inexperienced OR she was socially quite stupid to not realize there was a bigger issue going on besides your “silly feeling hurt”.

    Very nice article. Thanks for posting this. SueO

  8. Bill in NC says:

    Yup, plenty of people SINCERELY don’t care.

    Until and unless it directly affects THEIR paycheck.

  9. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that if you can’t be sincere, you shouldn’t apologize at all. It only makes things worse!

  10. Nowooski says:

    I read in an etiquette book somewhere that Thank Yous should always be written and Apologies should always be delivered in person or over the phone – i.e., not written.

    I’m not sure if this is to leave no record of the transgression or what. But something about that seemed to ring true to me.

  11. Great post! Sometimes you have to put your pride aside and apologize for your own mistakes. Its bloody surprising how many people cant figure out how to apologize. “Im sorry” goes such a long way! Get it right folks, get it right! Again, great post!

  12. Not Sorry says:

    Boy this was a timely article Trent, and I think you hit all of the majors points, especially not to apologize if you A) didn’t do anything wrong and B) can’t be sincere about the apology. If you apologize and don’t mean it, not only will it come through, but it also devalues your future, sincere, apologies.

  13. Adriana says:

    How does this help me in finance? I want to learn how to save money, not how to apologize.

  14. Chris says:

    She sounds like a biatch… and so does Adriana #11.

  15. Maureen says:

    This is a nice essay on apologies, but it doesn’t really have much to do with personal finance or frugal living. Sorry, but I think this blog post is off topic too.

  16. Doctor S says:

    Wow. She definitely deserved to get canned. I can see that situation happening in my work place where someone just does not “Get it” and plays the victim in a situation. I believe Adriana does not “Get it” either. Sad to say, there are too many people in the workplace currently like the woman that lost her job, people need to stop trying to play damage control for themselves and start acting like a professional human being.

  17. paula d. says:

    One of the hardest things to do is to admit you made a mistake. To be expected to admit it publicly, like the coworker was expected to do, I’m sure not only embarrassed her, but probably contributed to her insincere apology.

    Ultimately, she lost her job because of it, which contributed to her bottom line, of loss of income.

    Being a genuine human being is all connected.

  18. Carlos says:

    That’s the beauty of having your own blog; you can write what you’d like. Knowing when and how to apologize is a big part of life, and therefore finance (e.g. getting promoted vs. losing your job, et. al.). Consider this a part of your classical education…

  19. beth says:

    I don’t think it’s out of step at all to include posts on professional and personal etiquette, just like the book reviews on personal productivity are off-topic. If you can better hone your interpersonal skills, everything about saving or earning more money can get a little easier. If you burn all your bridges, you don’t have anything or anyone to ask for help or guidance when you might need it.

    Working in customer service most of my life, the apology (usually sincere) has become part of the daily routine. One of my former managers trained us best on this too. Basically it boils down to: acknowledge your mistake, apologize, explain how you are going to remedy the situation, and move the heck on. Don’t over-explain or over-complicate the actual process of apologizing, and when it’s in only the most superficial professional sense, don’t dig yourself a bigger hole by gushing about it too much.

  20. kz says:

    @ Johanna: I very nearly lost my mouthful of Earl Grey. Thanks – I needed that.

    If Trent actually bothered to engage in the discussion of his posts, he would likely make the argument that knowing how to ‘properly’ apologize will help you maintain relationships, particularly at work. Maintaining relationships at work helps you to hold on to your job. It’s just a guess, that he’ll neither confirm nor deny.

    @ Sarah – I agree. It’s often worth it to issue an insincere apology, just as it’s often worth it to tell your hosts how much you enjoyed the dinner, even if it’s not 100% truth. As long as you’re not compromsing your principles, a little insincerity can go a long way as a social lubricant.

  21. Online Banks says:

    It is amazing how character means so much less to people these days. I think that this world needs more shame. Society has become too passive in condemning people for their actions.

  22. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    I agree completely with everything in the post. I would like to add that I often think people over-apologize, that is, many people apologize more often than is necessary or when it is unnecessary. I agree with the comments that reflect that you should only apologize when you’re actually sorry. If you’re wrong, admit that you’re wrong. If you don’t feel that you’re wrong, that’s okay, too. It’s important to be nice, but it’s equally important to stand up for yourself. People like nice, but people will respect someone who is able to demonstrate strength when a situation calls for it.

  23. Vicky says:

    I think Sarah has it right, actually, at least when it comes to the working world. Of course you should try to be sincere when possible, but in the situation you described, the appropriate thing for the woman to do would have been to feign sincerity. I don’t think insincere apologies are as transparent as you suggest, at least not in the hands of someone who is socially adept and business savvy. (The subject of this story proved early on that she was neither, as anyone with even passing professional acumen would not make an accusation without fairly damning evidence -exactly because- of the likelihood of an awkward apology.)

    At least every few months I find it necessary to “apologize for the confusion,” which is a well-understood euphemism for “explain what they don’t understand in a way that does not suggest incompetence to their superiors.” I rarely harbor ill will toward the recipient, but I also rarely feel any personal responsibility for whatever misunderstanding occurred (there are of course exceptions on both counts.) Nevertheless, if I am instructed by a superior in a workplace to apologize, I’m absolutely going to apologize – I’m not going to “say nothing at all.” I mean, can you imagine?

  24. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “If Trent actually bothered to engage in the discussion of his posts,”

    I already said my piece in the post. I think it’s rude of me to jump into the comments all the time, as I’ve said over and over again. The proof will be in the pudding here, as many people will respond to (and think about) THIS comment instead of the overall post. I read the comments quite faithfully – I just try to let the discussions flow naturally instead of hijacking them all the time. The comments are YOUR space, not mine – The Simple Dollar is not my personal ego trip.

  25. Mike says:

    @ Adriana # 11

    The point of the article you’re looking for is that you will save money from an honest apology (or even a convincing insincere apology) by not having to look for another job because you’re fired by being a jerk.

    LOL @ Chris #12

  26. SteveJ says:


    @Trent, Good post.

    @Sarah, I think that there are times when a person is not important enough to me for me to be honest with them, but for the most part I think being honest is something to strive for. I think instead of silence, I would leave it short and sweet, I’m sorry my actions hurt you. I intended something else. No excuses, no long winded explanations.

  27. J says:

    Credibility (or trustworthiness, depending on how you define it) is probably the single most important currency you can have in a group. Money, skills (technical, grammatical :), etc), persuasiveness, experience and so on all are for naught when no one trusts you.

    The thing with credibility, though, is that it can take literally years to build up and then it can be lost in about a second when you do something like the situation Trent describes. After that, no one wants to work with you (or for you) until they trust you again, which can take a while.

    Reading “The Leadership Challenge” was a very revealing read for how organizations work and how people interact.

  28. Rachel says:

    Seeing as many people do find incorrect grammar distracting, I think it is worth correcting so that readers are able to keep focused on the message–not the mechanics–of the piece. Using correct grammar also helps establish in the mind of the reader or listener the sense that the writer is educated, has well-developed ideas, and is worth said reader’s or listener’s time.

  29. Johanna says:

    @kz: Glad you picked up on the humor I was going for, but it also happens to be the right answer. (Google “freelance copy editing rates.”)

  30. Marcus Murphy says:

    I think the article was spot on except for the last part about sincere apologies. In this particular case Trent did nothing wrong, so an apology was not due from him at all. But in many cases where apologies are needed, both parties are partly at fault. Still a sincere apology shouldn’t imply an expected return of an apology, but if the person I hurt also hurt me, I would expect them at some point in time to also come back and apologize to me. We all can be better people and rarely are none of us at fault, especially when times get stressful (like in a recession). Hopefully this can encourage more people to let go of their ego and genuinely be a better person.

    Thanks for this post Trent.

  31. Carol says:

    So, Trent, does this mean that you are going to apologize to single people for yesterday’s post?

  32. liv says:

    some people are just jerks and have no idea how to apologize.

  33. Suzie says:

    Wow, what a fantastic anecdote. It’s the personal posts, where you link general concepts to specific life events, that I like the most.

  34. Agreed that if you can’t be sincere you should at least do the other person the courtesy of trying.

  35. 444 says:

    Those who criticized Trent for not sticking to personal finance – well, you sure are critical. How “pure” do his posts have to be, in relation to personal finance, anyway? Better than toilet paper, I say. ;oD

    I think this is close enough to personal finance. My best friend just got a job and I feel 99% sure she will lose it immediately because, by her own admission, she has zero tolerance for criticism from others, and not by her own admission, she is abrasive and belittling to others and has extreme difficulty issuing any facsimile of an apology and most often simply won’t do it. Not surprisingly, she can’t keep friendships (other than me) or jobs.

    And I share Trent’s frustration. It sounds, Trent, as if you might have been more patient than me. I would have pointed out, each time accused, that I had not done anything malicious and that any inconvenience was unintentional. (Maybe a little flaw of mine.) It sounds like you did not do this, but it’s not clear. So you may be more gracious than I am.

    As a side note, I agree with the poster who said that people over-apologize, and one of my pet peeves is constant chanting of “sorry,” when no offense was committed. Saccharine manners, I guess. It dilutes the impact of a true apology when one is due.

    It’s not pleasant, but when I owe someone an apology, I give a full one. The sideways not-real apology is lame and not worth anyone’s breath. In fact, it makes things worse, in my opinion. A key aspect that may have been left out above is, “I regret having made this mistake that was unfair to you.” (The regret over having hurt the person being key. Just admitting having made a mistake and having hurt the person is not quite enough for nitpicky me, LOL.) Like I said, that’s what I would like from others and I do give the full apology when it’s my turn to give one.

    A good policy is to not accuse people lightly, to give the benefit of the doubt, etc., so that apologies are not very often needed.

    Another pet peeve of mine is over-sensitive people holding grudges or expecting apologies when no offense was actually committed – e.g. when questions were simply asked politely that make a person feel insecure, and they take great exception and expect all kinds of amends and apologies.

  36. FupDuckTV says:

    Some people are just ignorant assholes. That particular coworker seemed to be one. Good riddance.

    Good article!

  37. IRG says:

    Good post. Very good comments.

    I’m in the camp that believes that if you can’t sincerely apologize, and don’t honestly believe there is anything to apologize for, then don’t fake it, feign it or be insincere.

    There’s nothing worse than a forced, insincere apology. We all pretty much know when we are giving one or getting one.

    People don’t apologize for lots of reasons, but primarily because they don’t believe they did anything wrong (no matter what you tell them) and/or because they believe to do so would be admitting they were “wrong.”

    There are two sides to the issue of apologies. Trent’s story illustrates a legitimate case for an apology. But there are unfortunately plenty of times when some people demand apologies for things for which no apology should be required. (As in differences of opinion, instances when the other party has a legitimate right to take action even though someone else does not think so, etc.) So apologies requested and given …not so simple as one might think.

    Real apologies are hard for most people, even those who might mean them. (Most people come out with something like: Oh, I’m sorry you felt hurt by that. Hello. That is NOT an apology. The most lame are the: Well, that was NOT my intention. As if being more “enlightened” made it less problematic.)Before you can apologise, you really have to believe there is something to apologize for (your words, behavior, etc.) and accept that it has hurt someone. A lot of people will simply NOT do that.

    In my experience, I’ve never seen anyone be asked to apologize at work, even when it was warranted. That includes private meetings with a boss and the employee who should apologize. I applaud Trent’s employer for asking her to publicly apologize, but it’s clear that this woman did not think she did anything wrong. So, the end result–her snide insincerity, as one poster put it–is no surprise. But the message that the boss sent was important: If you are going to call someone on their work as she did, then, when that person is found innocent, you have to acknowledge that what you said was NOT correct.

    Finally, even a sincere apology means nothing without real remorse, and the willingness to make amends. If more people actually had to make amends, they might think twice before acting or speaking.

    We live in a world where too many people feel entitled. The same folks who hurt others are often the first to demand apologies for perceived slights, etc. and yet never apologize for their own behavior.

    You learn a great deal about a person when you “confront” them and request (politely) an apology. Pay attention.

    Trent, you were lucky in how your boss handled this. In many companies, people’s reps are totally ruined (with the bosses and other staffers) by the behavior of people like this woman. It’s the rare boss who allows someone to respond and looks into the situation fully.

    And it’s the even rarer boss who requests a public apology.

    The irony of life is that people who sincerely apologize and make true amends, often find themselves in much higher regard. Even when the basic differences and problems between them and others remain.

    Finally, you’re right. If you’re not sorry, don’t waste time pretending you are. It’s even more insulting than the original issue which prompted a request/need for an apology.

    It’s a sad comment on our society that so many cannot apologize. Cause none of us is guiltless and without faults that require it.

  38. Chetan says:

    I just read through the post and comments here and I’ve actually had this happen to me – when a user said to a bunch of people “Now I know what was wrong with this documentation” instead of saying “I screwed up and dropped the file into the wrong folder”

    And I’m sorry if I am wrong here, but if I were in Trent’s shoes I would have jumped in and said in very sincerely “Thanks very much everyone. I would sincerely suggest that in future, to avoid such problems, we should not wait for days and keep blaming someone else, rather we should try and work to resolve the problem at hand”

  39. Sierra says:

    This is such a hard lesson to learn. Nice write up on how to do it well. It really does make a huge difference.

  40. emma says:

    Your boss rather redeemed himself by having her apologize in front of the same group that heard the original accusation. My pet peeve is the public mistake followed by a private apology. I tell my children that if at all possible, you must apologize in the same ‘forum’ in which the harm was caused.

    I once had a boyfriend tell me he didn’t have to apologize for something he did to me because he’d already forgiven himself. There’s a kind of sick art to eeling out of an apology. Your coworker was an amateur for her ‘sorry that you feel bad’ non-apology.

  41. chris says:

    Interesting how many people take things so literally when it serves them – such as this posting and its indirect relation to personal finance. I think that some of the qualities exemplified by the girl/lady in the post are shown here in the comments. Sigh…yet another blog which I enjoy reading, where this will be my last posting due to what I read in the comments section – adios!

  42. Maha says:

    On the flipside, accepting an apology graciously is equally important. At a family Christmas party I was very snappy with a family member who had a young child. My issue was her treatment of my kids with regard to her child. Instead of addressing that straight on in a calm manner in the moment, I was very pouty and believed I acted over the top. I called this family member the next day to apologize for my treatment of her and that it wasn’t my intention to hurt her feelings or make her uncomfortable. I explained that I wished I’d handled the situation differently. I tried to offer ways that we could work together so both our kids could enjoy such events. Her response? My kids needed to learn to behave properly in “those” kinds of situations (they were being kids). I went silent momentarily and ended the conversation shortly thereafter. A few months later, now that her daughter is becoming one of “those” kids (independent, willful, energetic, etc), she came in with what I thought was a slight, ever so slight, understanding of what I’d been talking about. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done, because she insulted not only my kids, but my and my husband’s parenting. If she’d shown a little more understanding at the get go, we’d probably have a good relationship still. The funny thing is, I don’t think she cares that she damaged the relationship.

  43. michael says:

    The art of an apology absolutely relates to personal finance. If you don’t take ownership for something by apologizing for it, it can be a strike against you later. Say that whatever it is results in you being fired..how you respond to that firing can very well determine if that company will give you *any* sort of recommendation as you look for something else.

    As someone who took ownership for a situation that DID lead to being let go, my handling of an apology enabled me to still retain some positive feedback from the employer when I was seeking new employment. Being let go was determined by a higher up, but my immediate supervisor served as a reference. If I hadn’t taken ownership and apologized, there’s no way I would’ve gotten that support afterward.

  44. Todd says:

    I’m not really sure why I’m being taught how to make an apology, or why apologies are important, on a blog about money.

    I enjoy the offerings on the Simple Dollar that pertain to financial issues, suggestions, etc. You have an admittedly acute sense of where pitfalls exist and how people can avoid them in their daily lives. My gripe about the Simple Dollar, and more specifically this post, is that there are times when the posts are far more rooted in egocentric ramblings than anything to do with money matters. This smacks of a “Dear Abby” letter, and to be clear, you are not an advice columnist.

    I beg of you, please stick to financial advice. I’ve come to understand that you believe you know everything there is to be known, and that’s ok for the most part. I visit the Simple Dollar for financial advice, and not life advice. I have a mother and a girlfriend who can tell me what to do. I don’t need the dude writing my daily money blog to tell me what’s up.

  45. kz says:

    I seem to have touched a nerve. If I offended you, (and in the spirit of the post) I apologize. It was not my intention, nor was I trying to say that this site is your “ego trip.” Looking back at my earlier comment, it does seem rather snide, and I’m sorry for that.

    I am, however, bothered by your dwindling involvement in the post-post discussions since I started reading in 2007. You are a good writer, who often chooses engaging and interesting topics. This is what keeps me coming back to your site, day after day, to read what you’ve offered up. In that good writing, however, there has been a slight tone of smugness or arrogance, present from when I first started reading, whether intended or not, that tells me that you believe you are on a slightly higher plane than those of us reading. In the early days of my readership, I took it in stride, because those moments were few and far between. In the last 6 months or so, though, I have noticed an increase in their frequency. I’ve even commented on it from time to time. More and more I get the feeling that you have gotten a big head about your success.

    Part of that feeling is the lack of participation in the discussion. I am but one reader (who is on her way out), so you can ignore my comments if you like, but this lack of participation says to me that you are “too good” or “too busy” or “too [whatever]” to engage with us, your readers – the very people who make you a success. As my grandmother would have said, you seem to have gotten ‘too big for your britches.’ I’ve continued to come back for these last months because I keep hoping the tone will change. It hasn’t, and I have no reason to believe that it will.

    I have found other PF bloggers whose conversational tone strikes me in a more positive, less “preachy” (for lack of a better term) way, and I have been devoting more time to them. I don’t tell you this in an attempt to make you change – I’m not arrogant enough to think you care what one solitary reader, who doesn’t even know you personally, thinks about your personality. I hope that I am wrong, but in any event, I thought that after nearly two years of reading, I at least owed you the explination of why I’m disappointed.

    This was the underlying reason for the snide comment. I should have written so, rather than taking the uncivil course.

  46. Sandy E. says:

    She said “I am sorry that you feel hurt by my attempt to get the laptop working.” That’s patronizing, and if anything, she should be the one to have felt hurt to wrongfully accuse someone.

    A sincere apology would have been something like: “I’m glad to have this opportunity to apologize to you in front of everyone. I realize that I insulted your character and integrity, by wrongfully accusing you of doing something that you did not do, and would never do. I was just so completely frustrated at the time. Still, I had no right to say what I did. I deeply regret it, and even feel embarrassed by it, and I hope that you will forgive me. I am really sorry.”

  47. Zannie says:

    I think the boss in that story screwed up. Yes, it was important for her to apologize publicly, but by being asked to apologize, she was put on the spot and treated like a child. Granted, she was acting like a child, but treating her like one (in public especially) did nothing to fix the situation.

    It would have been better for the boss to have personally said something to the effect of, “I just wanted to let everyone know that the situation with the laptop has been resolved as an issue with a faulty keyboard, and to thank Trent for all his hard work in solving the problem.” This would have been the public exoneration needed. The apology is also an important part of the puzzle, but giving her the opportunity to volunteer the apology is better than embarrassing her by publicly telling her to apologize. If the boss suspected she would not apologize without being prompted to, he should have done the prompting privately ahead of time.

    Not that I’m trying to excuse her behavior; both the initial accusations and the “apology” were childish and rude. The boss, however, fumbled this one in spite of his good intentions.

  48. verbose says:

    Well, Trent, I’m surprised you expected to get an apology. This woman assigned a malicious motive to you before she had any idea what was really going on. She accused you of sabotaging a work computer, essentially, of deliberately messing up your own work. If you were in fact guilty of doing that, it might have been you who was canned. She also refused to believe your protestations of innocence and made sure everyone else knew about her accusation.

    She put you on the defensive–figure out what’s wrong with my computer, or it’s obvious that you did it. The faulty keyboard was a life-saver here. It’s rare that a computer issue boils down to something so obviously understandable as a broken keyboard. What would have happened if the problem was, say, some oddball setting in the BIOS, or, even worse, if the problem simply disappeared on its own? I’m guessing she would have continued to drag your reputation through the mud.

    The boss did the right thing by calling her on this behavior. He’d likely dealt with her back-stabbing before, and had never had such a clear-cut case in which he could point the finger directly at her.

    She was never going to apologize, she didn’t believe she’d done anything wrong, and your lesson in apologizing, if shown to her today, would not make a difference. Some people are just toxic.

    But, thanks for the post anyway.

  49. Lis says:

    I’m with the grammar police too (at least today). Please change ” . . . one of my coworkers had took a work laptop home with her . . . .” It’s painful – my eyes, my eyes! lol
    Comment #3 is priceless!

  50. Cambo says:

    As a people manager, I would have in this situation, facilitated a discussion and pointed out how I felt about the appology with the agenda of getting Trent and coworker talking and coming to a proper resolution.

    Easy to say in theory but harder when actual people are involved.

    It’s just good for workplace dynamic plus may assist in shedding a poor employee or retaining a good one.

    Good post Trent.

  51. kz, thanks for the extra detail about why you posted the snide comment “If Trent actually bothered to engage in the discussion of his posts” – I’m not going to flame you now. :)

    But for the rest of people who seem to take joy in eviscerating Trent – I just think people need to back the heck off of him! He’s just a guy. Who posts stuff on a blog. Which we read or don’t. He’s not God, he’s not Warren Buffet, he’s not an Economist editor, he’s not even Dave Ramsey.

    You do not have to get so touchy about his choices and his values! Because he would rather save 20 minutes to play with his kids does not mean those of us without kids are worthless and should be relegated to a big hole filled with spikes, thistles, and poison ivy!


    He is writing a blog about his own journey, and trying to find the universal themes in it to share. Not all details are universal, and oh yeah it’s NOT ALL ABOUT YOU! (as my husband likes to tell me)

    Sorry, that one came out strong, but gjheesh folks lighten up and back the heck down!!

  52. !wanda says:

    As someone without children, who doesn’t want children, who remembers causing my parents a lot of grief, and who as a child was frequently put in charge of a barely younger brother with special needs, I am continually mystified by Trent’s insistence that spending time with his children is worth lots of money. (Sociological studies back me up- when people are made to keep journals of what they’re doing and how happy they’re feeling hour by hour, spending time taking care of children is associated with lower happiness scores than any other activity besides commuting. This is in spite of the fact that these same people insist that their children make them very happy.) That’s one of the reasons why I am unsubscribing from this blog, when a year ago or so I was commenting on nearly every other post. I’m sure there are plenty of parents who can identify a lot more with Trent who will take my place.

  53. Esme says:

    Agreed!! Its his blog and he can do what he likes. If you don’t like it, leave. Simple as that. He’s not here to pander to everyone. Got it?

  54. amy o in yokohama says:

    Having lived in Japan for the last twelve years (my husband is Japanese and our 3 kids were born here), I’ve noticed two things: 1) Americans stink at apologizing, and 2) Americans take offense over really trivial things or when no offense was intended.

    Watching kids and parents in Japan, I noticed that all apologies are treated as a *two* part process–the apology (“I’m sorry”), and the forgiveness (“that’s ok”). The second part is just as important, and parents will upbraid a child who refuses to forgive just as quickly as a child who refuses to apologize. It’s usually the second part that gets left off, or not done right in the US. So often, in fact, that I think the reason most people don’t apologize when they should or do it insincerely is that they think they won’t be forgiven or will have their face rubbed in it if they do apologize. Both of those things are wrong and subvert the whole apology process. The reason to apologize is both to acknowledge that one is at fault *and* to be forgiven and get on with life (go back to playing, working, living together).

    The forgiving part may well be the harder part.

    That was pretty heavy, so here’s a smile (I hope):
    You’ve never been apologized to until you’ve had a Japanese person apologize to you, i.e.– get down on the floor, hands out in front in diamond position, bowing forward until the nose is nearly touching the floor, saying “I’m so extremely sorry”. Whoa. That elicits instant forgiveness from a naive Indiana girl, let me tell ya.
    The Japanese are *masters* of the art of the apology– why do you think there’s so much “group harmony”?:)

  55. imelda says:

    Yeah, @ kz, comment 42, I think you’re way off base. First of all, Trent writes with a very authoritative tone. That’s what you WANT to read when someone is expressing their opinions; if someone seems to doubt himself, then the reader will doubt him, too, even if he’s absolutely right. That may sound preachy, especially because Trent tends not to write with the humor of some other bloggers, but I have never thought that Trent is condescending. He simply believes what he writes, and shares it. I find his tone earnest, not preachy.

    Also, he has explained his reasons for not getting involved in the comments MANY TIMES, and he has good reasons. I find it frustrating myself that he doesn’t respond, but he has good cause. If you insist on seeing this as a form of snobbishness, I think that’s your own choice.

    On a more critical note: Carol, comment #42, beat me to what I was going to say!! Trent, does this post mean that we should expect an apology for your comments about time being worth more for parents than single folks? Or will you beg off with the excuse that it’s our fault for feeling hurt, and you did nothing wrong?

  56. michael says:

    Ha. Gotta love when someone reads into the ‘tone’ of a blog entry. They probably also get into trivial fights with loved ones about the ‘tone’ they used when asked to wash the dishes!

  57. Lynn says:

    Gotta love it when people try to invalidate another person’s opinion or feelings on something too, yeah michael #52?

  58. Ilah says:

    I think a few are missing the point of Trent’s blogs. Yes, it is about finance, but it is also about life and dealing with different aspects of your life. Getting your emotional life in order can have a direct effect on getting your financial life in order. As for the apology issue, this is about dealing with different personalities at work, which most certainly can affect your finances.

  59. Beth says:

    RE: “How much do grammar police make?”–‘shymom’ Poster should apologize for that rude insult (not very shy). A professional writer needs to use correct grammar and every writer learns to take the corrections of editors and proofreaders without taking it personally. Every time I am corrected, I LEARN MORE and thank the proofreader.

  60. Beth says:

    Someone misunderstood Trent’s message. Baker #9 wrote: “I wholeheartedly agree that if you can’t be sincere, you shouldn’t apologize at all.” That misses Trent’s point: that IF you want to remain vital and employed at work, you have to GET along with coworkers, RESPECT them, and RESOLVE differences. Not hold back apologies because you think you weren’t wrong. Since everyone thinks they’re right, we’d never resolve anything. If you think the misunderstanding was the other person’s fault, just say “I’m sorry it got to this where a simple misunderstanding kept us from acheiving our goals. NExt time this happens, let’s work it out and move on.”

  61. theBadLibrarian says:

    I can’t understand the sense of entitlement to response, involvement, and general jumping through hoops from Trent. You can’t make someone love you, you can’t make them hire you, and you can’t make a writer write what YOU want, on THEIR blog, when you want it.

    Unless you’re going to pay them to do that, and I’ll bet Trent’s rates – as a hugely popular blogger – are sky-high at this point. Anyone getting out the check-book?

    There’s the metaphorical door. Don’t let it hit you on the metaphorical ass on the way out!

  62. Margaret says:

    “I’m sorry your imcompetence made you lash out irrationally.”

  63. Jeff says:


    Do you listen to “This American Life”? The episode broadcast this week (actually a repeat from last year) called “Mistakes Were Made” dealt with the non-apology apology that you mentioned here. You can listen to the episode from their website here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=354 if you are interested.

  64. Margaret “I’m sorry your imcompetence made you lash out irrationally.”

    bwahahaha!!!! Awesome. Not sure who that’s pointed at (may well be me!) but it’s danged funny anyway.

  65. burned in the past says:

    I found your description of the laptop incident very interesting. I too have had moments very similar to yours that happened years ago and yet they are still etched into my brain with all that detail. You are probably better at making apologies today because of that incident. i feel that way about things that have happened to me, and yet sometimes i think of those incidents so long ago and I still cringe to this very day!

  66. Anna says:

    Having earned my living as a member of the grammar police for close to 30 years, I agree entirely with those who say that writers—including bloggers—need to observe correct grammar and usage. Perhaps one day Trent will let us know how he feels about being corrected in public. I enjoy his writing so much that when he makes an obvious blooper, I am not inclined to play “gotcha.” Instead, I become embarrassed on his behalf.

    As for the pay scale, rates vary widely, depending on the client; $30/hour is representative but not universal. Some clients pay by the page, making the effective hourly rate dependent on the condition of the manuscript, the publisher’s requirements, and the copyeditor’s rate of speed and/or willingness to compromise standards.

    And oh, yes, lest those who wished for a $30/hour wage in a recent post become envious of the grammar police, don’t forget that (1) much of our time is taken up with administrative work, which pays nothing, and (2) we are responsible for our own medical insurance, pension plan, and other benefits as well as 100% of contributions to Social Security.

  67. Kris says:

    It sounds like this chick took her job far too seriously. I found my struggle in the corporate world to be a lot less stressful once I realized that planes weren’t going to fall out of the sky if I took the weekend off. And if a computer doesn’t work right, then that’s the company’s problem… not mine.

    However, your boss was wrong to try and make her apologize publicly. This just causes further embarrassment about the situation and is not necessary and to be honest, was probably not going to have any affect on what you think of her. Sure, she made her pitiful comments publicly, but you’re a big boy… I’m sure you could handle it. Do you really need a public apology to make yourself feel better?

    @Sarah – an insincere apology is a waste of everyone’s time and damages your credibility. Sure, it may avoid a confrontation the same way giving a fussy child an ice cream cone keeps you from having to listen to them whine, but it doesn’t really do any good and the situation will just come up again. People who apologize insincerely will also be insincere when they say they will help you with your project and are insincere when you ask them to cover for you. You just can’t trust someone who’s insincere.

  68. Shannon says:

    Trent’s coworker’s apology was a lot like that of Rosie O’Donnell’s when she apologized to the media for mimicking Chinese people. She was insincere, did not take responsibility, and has lost my respect. No wonder Trent doesn’t no longer trusted his colleague.

    And don’t worry about the grammar! We all know what you’re capable of!

  69. michael bash says:

    What needs an apology is the sentence saying a coworker “had took” a computer home with her. Nobody apologizes to the English language these days, and it suffers more and more at the hands of those who should know better. Woe is us.

  70. Ash says:

    Can someone forward this post to my mother in law?!?! Ha! It absolutely slays me when people act like jerks, then apologize for my (or whoever’s) perfectly sane and rational reaction to their overt jerkiness. My MIL recently did something flagrantly jerky, then “apologized” by saying “I’m sorry you’re angry at me” Huh?!?!? Rest assured that people like this loooovvvve to stir up trouble. They’re classic attention seekers and manipulators. Trent, as you know, your reaction to your co-workers little drama was perfectly normal. I’d steer clear of her!

  71. Kim says:

    An insincere apology…hmmm…I think that even if we don’t understand the nature of the offense, it is perfectly appropriate to apologize for causing someone grief, sorrow, discomfort or harm by our actions even if we were doing nothing wrong, or do not know that what we were doing is wrong. There is a HUGE rift in my family because a parental until will not apologize for causing hurt however unintentionally to a sibling of mine. Granted the PU is totally in the wrong, but because of their strange upbringing and general cluelessness regarding the human race in general and their offspring specifically, they do not understand that what they have done has cause immeasurable harm to their progeny. When I suggested that they apologize for the pain the other party is suffering, regardless of understanding the cause, the PU was affronted and haughtily said, “I’m not going to apologize when I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong!”

    This attitude is one of the things that causes harm to others as it generally lets others know that we do not care that they are hurt, it is more important that we are in the right.

    That being said, one of the finest lessons I ever learned as a young married women was to say to my husband with all sincerity, You know, you may be right.” Actually I faked the sincerity convincingly enough until I realized the arrogance of assuming that it was impossible for him to ever BE right. Many an argument has been sidetracked by learning that simple concept. It is just possible that the other person has a point or may be right and that I may be totally off base. Just maybe…

    Even when I don’t understand the nature of the offense, or why someone is hurt or offended by something I have said or done, I do most sincerely apologize for having done anything that hurt them and for being such a clueless individual as to be unable to figure out or remember what I have done and I offer the person the opportunity to explain what I said or did that caused the offense and the rift in our relationship. Hopefully this is the more gracious and loving thing to do, as that is my intent. I am not denying that there is genuine hurt, nor am I denying that I am the cause, and am allowing for an explanation of the way I hurt or offended the person. The goal is to heal the relationship. I am quite willing to humble myself for that, as I have seen the damage caused by the lack.

    Trent, this is one of the things I enjoy about your blog and keeps me coming back. There is finance, yes, but the life stuff, the genuine reflective nature of what you write and the real examples keep me coming back. Thank you.

  72. Sharon says:

    If you accuse someone of malicious acts in public, then you SHOULD apologize to them in the same public manner. The boss was entirely in the right on that one, in my opinion. It WAS necessary because without it, people might well believe that Trent sabotaged her. And in the end, this “person” could continue to sabotage Trent and result in HIS getting fired. Rumors fly all over and without setting the record straight Trent could end up the victim.

    Furthermore, the boss gave this idiot a chance to redeem herself with the apology in the same forum as the accusation. That she chose not to do so, and in fact, to dig herself in even deeper, was a telling reaction that let the boss accurately assess her character and ensure that she no longer poisoned the workplace.

    Had I been her boss, I would have immediately assumed that this little darling was not only pulling this on others besides Trent, but whenever someone accuses someone of sabotage, I assume that they are capable of it and probably engaging in sabotage themselves. In fact, I would wonder if she didn’t sabotage her own keyboard to engineer this whole thing. In any case, She would have been headed out the door.

  73. plonkee says:

    Trent, you deliberately never interact with your commentators. Please accept that some people wish you would change your mind and that you might never persuade them that you are right. People write so that you will comment. Everyone’s blog is their own ego trip because an audience is awesome – most people (including you) just try to limit that aspect as much as possible.

  74. Kris says:

    @ Sharon: Couldn’t disagree with you more. The boss should have handled this with a meeting with just Trent and the woman who made the accusations, and maybe an HR rep if Trent felt so threatened by this. Continuing this situation in public just continues the problem and makes it difficult for everyone in the work group forcing the group to pick sides between the two. No doubt that everyone knew the real situation long before the meeting where she gave her insincere apology as nothing is kept quiet in an office and it would have been obvious when I.T. had to replace the keyboard. I am not saying she didn’t owe Trent an apology, I’m just saying the boss shouldn’t have forced a public one. The only reason for a public apology would be to satisfy Trent’s ego and humiliate the woman who made a mistake by making the stupid accusations to begin with. I am sure a sincere apology to Trent would have been sufficient, why the need to keep all the public drama in the office?

    How would you feel if you made a mistake and owed someone an apology for it and your boss steps in and makes you do it in front of your entire group? Wouldn’t your apology be a little insincere in that situation?

  75. Sharon says:

    If I make a PUBLIC ACCUSATION of malfeasance against someone in error, the very least I can do is make PUBLIC APOLOGY IN FRONT OF THE SAME PEOPLE I MADE THE ACCUSATION TO. Since this little darling didn’t hesitate to smear Trent IN PUBLIC BEFORE HIS COWORKERS, I don’t see what her problem was in making amends in the very same setting.

    On the occasions when I have made mistakes, I admit them to the folks involved and my apology is completely sincere, and I don’t make that particular mistake again.

    I have been the victim of a very public and very erroneous smear by a woman with no integrity. There was no apology, no attempt by the supervisor to correct the situation, and guess what? My coworkers turned against me. This isn’t an “ego” thing for Trent — it is a very real threat that can undermine him permanently.

  76. Kris says:

    Its part of the office environment that you will run into someone who lacks integrity and blames others for their shortcomings. I have had my share of people blaming me for them not being able to do their job, but you know what, I have 100% confidence in my own integrity, professionalism and work ethic.

    I know my managers and coworkers trust me and wouldn’t believe for a second that I would “tamper” with someones work. If you don’t feel your coworkers would trust you, your work ethic, your integrity and you need a public apology in front of the entire group for them to know you wouldn’t tamper with someone’s work, then perhaps the problem isn’t with your coworkers.

  77. Sharon says:

    Well, Kris, I hope that you don’t find out how wrong you are! I also hope that you have enough confidence in your own integrity, work ethic and so on that when you get stabbed in the back and outmaneuvered, you have fun looking for your next job without a good reference.

  78. steve says:

    The supervisor slurred Trent’s reputation and shamed him publicly with little cause–which shows a lack of professionalism and political savvy.

    Maybe she could have saved her own butt by admitting to herself her a) technological lack of knowledge and b) the tactical inappropriateness of choosing a public forum to lash out at Trent and by making a very public and complete apology.

  79. Sharon says:

    It wasn’t the supervisor in this case.

  80. Kris says:

    Wow Sharon, all I can say is that it must be hard and lonely living your life thinking everyone is going to stab you in the back. Sounds like a sad life to me.

  81. Sharon says:

    Not everyone, Kris. I hope you enjoy your happy little bubble that you live in with your rose-colored glasses on.

  82. Kris says:

    Thank you Sharon, I do enjoy my happiness. And just for future reference, my glasses are silver, not rose-colored.

  83. Linda says:

    This is the most entertainment I’ve had since playing fetch with my dogs this morning. People are so upset about this apology, or lack of one. Meanwhile, I feel sorry for the brother who is the subject of so much public judgement from someone who loves him. We all have our things, I guess.

  84. Apologies can be expensive in the pride department. But can also increase the value of your proverbial stock– that you can man or woman up to your mistakes . . . apparently, this misguided individual may never learn that.

    As for the grammar cop– your helpfulness should have been done via a private email . . . I think you owe a very public apology!

  85. Jamie says:

    In our house, we don’t just apologize, but we follow it with the question, “Will you forgive me?” Why? Because apologies just hang there. They don’t give the offended party an opportunity to respond. Most get the “I’m sorry” and respond with “It’s ok.” Well, it’s not ok and one shouldn’t have to say that it is. We are not called to be ok with someone’s behavior or words, but we believe that we ARE called to forgive.

    I’ll never forget the day that my 2 year old daughter came to me and said, “Mommy, I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” My heart melted and my anger at whatever it was that she’d done was completely melted away. Ever since then, we all use that form of apology.

    I encourage everyone to try it.

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