Many people find it hard to give feedback to others at work. It can be tough to summon the courage to give it, and you have to do it right for it to land as you intend. If nothing else, it can just feel “awkward.” Recently, as I read an article from about how to apologize in the workplace (something I think the business world can use more of, by the way), I got to thinking how apologies are feedback’s first cousin—not just because of how it feels to deliver them, but because we can use some of the same techniques that help us deliver effective feedback to deliver an effective apology. In delivering both apologies and feedback, it helps to be vulnerable, specific, and forward-looking.


Be Vulnerable

When you apologize sincerely, you lay yourself open to criticism and attack by admitting wrongdoing. It sounds terrifying when you think of it that way, but remember that when you give feedback, you’re vulnerable too. Your feedback could be rejected. You may have misread the situation that caused you to give the feedback. Or you could be seen as overstepping. And still, you work up the courage to provide it because you think it serves a greater good (e.g., the other person’s development, better performance for the team, etc.). Recall the courage you use in giving feedback, and draw upon it to deliver a meaningful apology.


Be Specific

Here’s a bad apology: “Yeah, sorry about all that.” What’s wrong with it? Not specific enough. It’s the same thing with feedback. Good feedback recalls a specific observation and behavior, as in: “Yesterday, when it was my turn to give my update at the team meeting, I noticed that you interrupted me a handful of times.” Specificity orients the person receiving the feedback to a particular situation so that we’re thinking and talking about the same thing. Be specific in apologizing as well to let the person know that you’re not asking for a blanket absolution of all transgressions but rather apologizing for something specific that you did and that affected them.


Be forward-looking

An apology should represent an attempt at strengthening a relationship. Meaningful feedback typically exists within the context of a work relationship. You and the person receiving the feedback may even work on an agreed approach to move forward based on the feedback discussion. And that approach often leaves the door open to checking in with each other to see how the approach is working. A meaningful apology works in a similar way. You may want to ask permission to check in with the person in the future to see if you’ve been doing better. Or you may want to give them permission to provide you with feedback if they see you making the same mistake that prompted the apology. As you do with feedback, end your apology by leaving the door open to future communication on the subject.



We all misstep at one point or another—we’re human. The vulnerability and openness you display when you apologize at work don’t make you look weak; they make you courageous and relatable. Draw upon what you already know about giving feedback to deliver effective apologies that will strengthen the relationships in your work life.



Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want.