We have all had regrettable moments as bosses and employees and co-workers. Maybe we need an annual day of apology to all slighted colleagues.
Q: About 20 years ago, I served in a management position. I had great employees, but I was a horrible boss.
I’d like to write an apology to one person in particular who really stuck out his neck for me, but whom I treated badly. He’s retired now, and 83 years old. I don’t want to upset him by bringing back bad memories. On the other hand, I’d like to tell this man how lucky I was to work with him, and how much I learned from his example.
Bad supervision can scar the soul. I’d be immeasurably pleased if even one of the managers who wronged me in the past took the time to apologize.
Should I let this go or send the letter?
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A: I think you should send it. And even if you don’t send it, you should certainly write it.
In fact, you may want to write it twice. First, write a version for you: Articulate whatever helps you reach catharsis about your past actions and regrets. Then start fresh or revise the original to send to the person you supervised. No need to dwell on the specifics of your past sins in this version — he probably won’t need to be reminded. Focus on the apology and the positive effect he had on your life.
You seem sincere, and that’s the key: Anything that comes across as contrived or having an ulterior motive would be worse than no apology at all. Just make sure that what you send isn’t overly focused on you; that risks coming across more as self-pitying or even excuse-making, rather than representing real contrition.
With those caveats, this sounds like a good thing for him, for you — and maybe for the rest of us. We have all had regrettable moments as bosses and employees and co-workers. Maybe we need an annual day of apology to all slighted colleagues.
Submit questions to Rob Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org.