After working for years in customer service, I have had to deliver my fair share of bad news. Whether I couldn’t keep a promise or I wasn’t able to meet a deadline, there were unpleasant conversations that needed to happen.
Unfortunately, hiding under a rock wasn’t an option.
In the modern world we live in, we send a lot of emails. Many of us are busier than ever, and picking up the phone every time we have something to say isn’t feasible.
Mastering email communication will make anyone’s life, personal or professional, much easier.
Let me start by saying that there are a lot of benefits to using email.
We can spend extra time crafting our responses. We can have someone else review it for us before we send. And we can take the time to ensure we’ve covered everything we need to say.
The downside of using email is that human connection can be lost. Without hearing the tone of someone’s voice, we can misinterpret them.
Empathy, a sense of understanding, and human connection can easily be lost.
Weaving these things into your emails, especially the ones where you need to apologize, will make all of the difference.
As I mentioned, I have a lot of practice in writing apology emails.
I used to work with corporate clients, meaning that I was speaking to the president or manager most of the time. Sending bad news to them was nerve-wracking. I had relationships with them that I couldn’t risk losing.
And since my job was to service them and make them happy, it was my job to let them know whenever our company messed something up.
Believe it or not, people were understanding most of the time. They may have been frustrated or disappointed, but our working relationship was never destroyed.
As I started to hone my craft, I saw some trends in the apology emails I was writing.
I started to see what made them effective, and what could make bad news a little easier to digest.
Don’t Get Defensive
This may be obvious to you, but it needs to be mentioned.
You need to be in the right frame of mind when you start to write an apology email.
You want to be empathetic and apologetic.
You should never say anything along the lines of “poor me”, “it’s not my fault”, or “don’t blame me for this”.
Even if these things are true, you are simply going to build a barrier between you and the other person if you say them. They need to feel that you are on their side.
They Need to Feel Like You’re on Their Side
If things don’t work out in their favor, people can get upset. If they feel like you’re not the enemy in the situation, and if they feel like you both are working towards a common goal, they’re less likely to take this out on you.
Reassure them that you are still on their side, and you are likely to walk away with a continued relationship with them.
You Should Apologize, But No More Than Twice
Share with them that you feel remorseful for what happened. It wasn’t your intent, and you feel sorry about it.
One thing that makes an apology more genuine is to make it specific. Let them know exactly what you are apologizing for, and not just that you are “sorry for the inconvenience”.
You should apologize at least once, and preferably just after you deliver the bad news.
If you think it is needed, you can say sorry just once more (if you say it too much, it won’t feel genuine).
Save the second one for the end of your email, after you have said everything you wanted to say. You can say something like, “again, I truly apologize for missing the deadline we agreed on”.
Establish A Personal Connection
The whole email doesn’t need to be centered around a negative message. Don’t forget to nurture your relationship or connection with this person.
A simple “how are you doing?” or “I hope life has been treating you well!” will do the trick.
Let Them Know Everything You’ve Been Doing For Them
Before you break the news, tell them what you’ve been doing that benefits them.
Have you been working hard on a task for them, or have you already tried everything you can to find a solution for them?
They won’t be able to see all of the effort you’re putting in them unless you tell them. Make sure you include this so they can see you have their best interest at heart.
Break The Bad News To Them, But Make It Brief
Make it short and sweet! Tell them the bad news, including why it happened.
It is better to be honest and say why you failed, then to be vague and only say “I messed up”.
Even if they are still upset, they will appreciate the honesty. And they won’t feel like you are hiding anything from them.
Reiterate That You Are On The Same Page As Them
Step in their shoes, and imagine how they may be feeling.
Then let them know that you are feeling the same way as they are about it (whether that is disappointment, sadness, frustration, etc.)
This expresses to them that it wasn’t your intent to make them upset, and that you care about the same thing as they do.
Tell Them How You’re Going To Fix it
This won’t always be possible, depending on what has happened.
If there is something you can do (or should do) to remedy the problem, let them know. Maybe you will get them what they need in just a few more days, or maybe you will work harder on ir for them.
If you think you need two days to do it, tell them you need three. If something comes up and you actually need the third day, you won’t need to apologize all over again.
The last thing you want to do is to have to send them an email saying you messed up again. Give yourself some wiggle room.
If there is anything you can do to offer them extra value, let them know! If you can give them something for free or do more for them to thank them for their cooperation, this will go a long way in keeping them happy.
Make a Confident Statement About Your Future With Them
So you’ve given the bad news, and you’ve told them what you’re going to do to fix it.
Don’t forget to talk about your future with them, too. Do you want to continue to have a relationship with them? Are there steps you’re going to take to make sure they should keep working you? These are all great things to mention in your email.
Don’t make a promise that you might not be able to keep, like “I will never make a mistake ever again”. Instead, confidently let them know what you can do for them.
For example, you could say something like “I am using this as a learning opportunity, and I will continue to work hard for you in the future”.
Keep The Lines Of Communication Open
No one wants to have a bomb dropped on them, and then feel like the other person is trying to hide from it. This can come across as sneaky or dishonest.
Always mention that you’re willing to keep the lines of communication open.
If they have any questions about it, or if they want to chat about it more, you’re still there for them.
This ties in to making them feel valued and appreciated.
Use the benefits of communicating over email to your advantage. Take some time to think about what you want to say. Read it over a few times and make some adjustments.
Although email has a reputation for being impersonal, work on making the other person feel valued and respected.
Sometimes, it is easier or more effective to talk about it over the phone. You can call them before sending the email, or you can let them know you’re happy to talk about it on the phone later.
None of us are perfect, and we will all make mistakes. People aren’t always going to like us or the things we do.
Although we can’t be perfect or control how people react to us, there is one thing we can control: how we handle the situation.