There's an apocryphal story that's often told of President Truman, the 33rd President of The United States. According to the tale, Truman had a sign that read 'the buck stops here' on his desk in The White House Office. The phrase refers to his willingness as a leader to take ownership of mistakes that were not just his own.
No one's perfect, and as you progress at work, you're bound to make mistakes. Here's the kicker, though: The biggest mistake you can make is not taking ownership of your slip-ups.
A good, sincere apology helps to mend broken bridges, and signals to your superiors that you're aware – and willing to work on – your flaws. Here are some mindsets that will help you to make a professional mea culpa.
In psychology, there's a term called locus of control. Individuals with an external locus of control will tend to blame the environment when things go south. For example, they may blame the weather for their performance during a sports match, or a faulty piece of equipment for not being able to meet deadlines.
Individuals with an internal locus of control tend to focus on themselves when they make a mistake: Flaws on their technique, for example, or in their process of executing a task.
While neither mindsets are negative in themselves, having an internal locus of control when making an apology will make your apology more sincere. If you say “I'm sorry, my approach to this project was flawed," it'll definitely sound a lot better than “I'm sorry, but my teammates were to blame".
Offer solutions, not new problems
Always offer a solution together with your apology. When you're hired by your company, you're hired on the presumption that you'll be adding both intrinsic and extrinsic value as an employee.
Having an internal locus of control is central to you understanding exactly what went wrong, and to offer your colleagues and superiors a tenable solution to fix the problem. For example, “I'm sorry that I may not be able to hit my projected sales target for this month. To fix this, I've come up with a three-month plan that documents my weaknesses, and streamline the manner in which I engage clients coming forward."
Say it once, say it well
Think of words as being similar to currency: If you repeat yourself too many times, they're subject to their own form of inflation. Repeated apologies can only serve to devalue the original statement. Say sorry once, say it sincerely, and move on, instead of having your mistake become an albatross you hang around your neck.
Do an after-action review
Most of us tend to feel bad after a project we're responsible for falls through, or if we let down our superiors. Always remember that while emotions are important to cope with, the best thing that you can do is to objectively analyse the problem, and ensure that it doesn't happen again.