Admitting a mistake can fall flat if you apologize the wrong way. The victim of your screw-up does not want to hear about you.
Instead ask yourself: Who am I talking to, and what is he or she looking for in my apology?
* A stranger or mere acquaintance wants you to offer compensation or some redeeming action. Compensation can be tangible, like paying to repair your neighbor’s fence when you accidentally back your car into it, or emotional, like being extra thoughtful.
* Your colleague or friend wants empathy. When you recognize and express concern over the suffering you caused, the victim feels understood and valued, and trust is restored.
* Your team wants an acknowledgement of the rules and norms you violated.
Basically, you need to admit that you broke the code of behavior of your social group or organization, and that you recognize you let them down.
Adapted from “The Most Effective Ways to Make It Right When You Screw Up,” by Heidi Grant Halvorson.