Apologies come as easy as breathing. We carry one in the tip of our tongue (and the auto corrector on our phones) every day. We walk the streets gifting small “sorrys” to strangers, we drop one when we sneeze, and spend our work hours delivering them to our bosses.

There are many apologies and many ways to do them. Sometimes we apologize although it’s the other person’s fault. Some of us even use “sorry” as a greeting, a quick line in an email, like “Good morning”, “How nice is the weather”, and “Sorry I answered three minutes late!”

When working with clients, their satisfaction is key.  Not primarily the work, nor primarily the results. But are important, but in a secondary way after the most important thing: client satisfaction. Clients are the sole judge of the outcome, and thus the ones deciding it’s worth. And this one does not, although it may seem incredible, come from “good work”. Because it doesn’t matter how perfect and precise your work is, the client only measures results based on their own expectations. With this in mind, managing interactions is key.

A way to do it is through communication. As not all of us have developed our mind-reading abilities yet, sometimes there’s no other choice but to ask. Language isn’t something we just use to communicate, it’s a tool to achieve objectives. And if apologizing is a part (a big one, if I’m to say) of our language, then, what objectives do apologies fulfill?

First of all, apologizing is a way to show you’ve made a mistake, and you understand it. It’s a way to reestablish your knowledge of social rules, as in “I know what I did isn’t socially acceptable, please let me back into the club!”. It also proves you aren’t proud of your actions, you regret the way you’ve acted, and you won’t do it again.

Apologizing is also a way to return the dignity of those you may have hurt. Although it won’t magically repair the damage done, receiving recognition for the pain done can be fulfilling and bring closure to the receiving person. It’s also a way to show respect, as you prove them deserving of apologies, and address their feelings. So depending on the situation, asking for forgiveness is something that can be for you, or for others. 

This is what leads us to understand the third objective apologizing fulfills: it’s a means to repair damaged relationships. Conflict isn’t avoidable, and as we are all humans, working with other humans, mistakes and clashes are bound to occur. Saying sorry helps continue the conversation, which is always the best solution. As we stated before, mind-reading isn’t an ability we developed yet. So we have no other choice but to talk!

When working with clients, you may feel like apologizing it’s the best course of action. But there’s a downside to doing it too much.

If you are like me, then maybe you’re on the side that has this problem often called “over apologizing”. Symptoms include: a tendency to take the blame, the inability to write an email without asking for forgiveness, and fear of disappointment. This sickness can affect your work life greatly. It shows low self-esteem, poor boundaries, fear of conflicts, and a too heavy focus on other people’s needs.

The worst aspect of over-apologizing is it lessens the impact of future apologies. If you send a five line paragraph over a typo, what are you going to do when you miss a deadline? Your client (just as yourself), isn’t a mind-reader either: his perception of you is a progressively built concept that grows from his interactions with you. What this means is: your client will only see what you show them. Their patience can run out when all they see is your faults, broadcasted to them by your constant apologies. Following this train of thought, words that are used too much lose their meaning. When a real problem comes up, you won’t have the words to express your fault, and your client may get the message that you don’t differentiate the depth of your mistakes.

It’s so hard to determine the right-amount-of-sorrys due to the fear of making mistakes. An important part of making mistakes it’s the fact that they are accidental. And accidents only happen when there’s work. It is very common that the dimension of tasks block us, and responsibilities can become overwhelming. It’s these moments when the fear of mistakes becomes bigger.

But mistakes can only be made when work is being done. They are a way of growth, a rocky and painful one. Of course, no one would tell you to commit them intentionally in order to improve, but everyone will tell you to learn from them. And what does this mean? It means recognizing the work done, the risks taken, and the point where it’d have been better not to take them.

None of us are communication geniuses. Learning when to apologize and when not to can be hard. But if you are reading this, and realizing you may have been making a mistake, then please, read the former paragraph. You’ve made a mistake, now you get to fix it!

(And when you aren’t sure just how to fix it, of course, Google has your back: Chrome’s ‘Just Not Sorry’ Plugin warns you whenever you’re using a word that undermines your email and explains the reason. That way you can know which words and idioms to avoid, and work them out.)