Why You Should Apologize to an Ex-Employer

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apologizeI'm sorry ... so sorry ...

Often, those are the last words you ever want to say when you get laid off. Why should you apologize? It's your boss who owes you one, right?

But as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal points out, these days people are more anxious than ever to get past misdeeds off their chests, whether that means admitting to stealing a box of crayons from a neighbor kid when you were 10 or apologizing to your former employer for writing a tell-all about the company.

Even famous folks are 'fessing up to their faults. Serena Williams apologized twice for her controversial U.S. Open outburst. Posh and Becks' former nanny apologized for revealing confidential information about the family to the press. And Congressman Joe Wilson apologized to President Obama after shouting "You Lie!" during an address to a joint session of Congress. (See more famous apologies here.)

But why would a regular person like you or me even want to say sorry, especially, say, to an employer who spurned us? According to Lauren Bloom, author of The Art of the Apology-How to Apologize Effectively to Practically Anyone, "Being able to apologize effectively is an essential business skill whether you're an entry-level employee or a seasoned executive. Apologizing can heal rifts in business relationships, restore trust and, if done correctly, head off lawsuits before they're filed."

That's right, while you might be afraid to apologize because you think it will be used as an admission of guilt or end up in a lawsuit, your apology may be the thing that staves off further action in the first place. "Customers and employees file lawsuits because they're angry about a mistake or because they don't know why something went wrong and think they have to sue to find out," says Bloom. "People who make effective business apologies usually come out even better than before the mistake was made, gaining the respect and confidence of the person who receives the apology."

So, if you apologize, you might actually get your job back? "If the infraction was relatively minor and the employee previously had a good track record, apologizing might be enough for the employee to be rehired," says Bloom. For more serious mistakes, an apology would likely not constitute rehiring, "but could pave the way to a letter of reference or other help finding a new job."

In any case, saying sorry can help you gain closure if you're harboring any guilt over your actions. And if you apologize before you get fired, it could very well save your job.


Bloom's Six Steps to an Effective Apology:

1. Say you're sorry-sincerely! No "ifs" or corporatespeak.

2. Take responsibility for what you did wrong. You can explain, but don't make excuses.

3. Make amends.

4. Express appreciation to the other person for whatever they give you-in this case, your job, an opportunity to excel, terrific work as an employee, etc. (People often forget this step, but it's what seals the deal in terms of emotional closure.)

5. Listen as the other person tells you how he or she felt as a result of what you did wrong.

6. Tell the other person you'll do better next time-then do it.

Now, does all this mean I'm saying sorry to my former employer? Mmmm, not just yet. But I'll think about it.

Have you ever said you're sorry ... or has a boss ever apologized to you? Tell us your story!

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