How do you apologize when the thing you are apologizing for is an action (or inaction) of a peer?   In particular where it  took place without your knowledge or involvement, possibly at a time when that person was not your peer and they are no longer your peer.

I am currently in the position of fielding communications for a team I joined in January (about 2-300 emails a day all of which need either responding to or forwarding to a responsible person for response).   In case it's relevant (I think it is) I am a High-C/High-D with virtually no I (classic IT techie profile) so am probably not ideal for this role (I imagine that a High-I/High-S would not struggle as much with the interpersonal side of the role, actually from what I know of the worst offender from having worked with him a few times he seems classic High-I) but I'm giving it my best shot.

Recently I have seen a lot of emails relating to the failure of one or more of my peers on the team to act (often where they had told the person they would perform a specific action but then didn't, without informing the person or, indeed, anyone else that they wouldn't) or of them doing something they shouldn't or wrong. Sometimes there have been legitimate reasons why the thing has not been done, e.g. over taken by higher priority work, so the real offence is not notifying the affected party and managing their expectations.

So far none of this rises to the level of misconduct (at least not sufficiently that they could be taken down a formal disciplinary route).  In a number of cases the person who committed the original offence has left the team either to move onto another project or leave the organisation.  In some case the offender left before I joined the team.

What I am having to do a lot of is apologize on behalf of the team, but I feel very uncomfortable doing it.  A small part of my discomfort is that nagging feeling that it's not my fault so why should I apologize but I'm processing that and dealing with it.  A much bigger part is that I feel that I'm not apologizing very well, in particular I find it hard to avoid seeming like I'm trying to pass on or spread around the blame. 

It doesn't help that very often the apology has to be by email as the person is usually a number of miles away and we either do not have a phone number for them or we have their landline but they are out more than they're in and don't have voice mail (because they have email).

Typically an email looks like:


I am very sorry that your form was not processed earlier.  I have found the information that you sent to [peer's name] and have now processed your form.  You should get notification of [end result] by [date we expect the result to be sent to them].


I would appreciate any comments or suggestions.

Due to the culture of our organisation it would be highly inappropriate (andf possibly career ending) for me to give the offenders peer feedback, and as noted above mostly they have moved on any way.  Our culture is also very prone to 'blamestorming',a situation I am very keen to avoid.





acao162's picture

As a High D, High I, I would find your e-mail appropriate.  The phrase "I'm sorry" isn't about you - it is about acknowledging that I, your customer, was inconvenienced.  It really doesn't matter to me whether you caused the inconvenience.  You aren't apologizing for your behaviour, you are apologizing for my frustration.

I appreciate the acknowledgment that you are aware of the inconvenience (I'm sorry) and that you have verified my complaint (that peer's name didn't follow up).  Adding the new promise date provides me some confidence that I will have my issue solved.

From a customer service perspective, this e-mail, provided you do in fact follow-up, is satisfactory. 

From a peer relationship perspective, is this really a problem?  If everyone who caused the problem has moved on, you need to as well.  Just deal with the past as efficiently as possible. 


refbruce's picture

The letter is fine.  One thing I might change is to use "us", recognizing that it's the team/organization that has failed (in the eyes of the customer), and there's not necessarily value in naming the individual who dropped the ball. And I might add a more forward looking statement (depends on the business, and what the ongoing relationship with the affected individual might be.  If this is a company that is expecting further patronage from the customer, then I would definitely say something forward looking like what I've suggested below. 


I am very sorry that your form was not processed earlier.  I have found the information that you sent to us on <date> and have now processed your form.  You should get notification of [end result] by [date we expect the result to be sent to them].

Again, I apologize for the delay, and we look forward to promptly taking care of your requests in the future.


And customer service teams need high C/high D people, too.  A good team needs a balance of behavior types to make sure that ideas are considered from different perspectives and that the range of tasks get completed. 

jhack's picture

Key point:  you apologize to repair a relationship, not to allocate blame. 

And lots of good info in the cast, to boot. 

John Hack

asteriskrntt1's picture

You apologize to repair.  And as per the discussion I had yesterday with the 6 year old in the house, you apologize whether you feel you need to or not.  Whether it was intentional or an accident (he slammed a swing into the neighbour's kid by accident), whether it happened 10 years ago or 10 minutes ago. 

As you do not control any of your co-workers, I would not add the promise to serve the customers better. 

As per the feedback, you know your org better than anyone.  You might want to consider creating a delta file, which logs whatever you need to log.  And when you make this file, do everything humanly possible to make it unobtainable to anyone but yourself.   

If I was a boss and my area of responsibility was receiving 2-300 emails a day from customers voicing dissatisfaction or SLAs that are being breached, I would sure want to know. Does your boss know about this?