As a startup founder, you are always in a rush. Investors, partners, co-founders, team members, and, of course, your own family – you are doing your best to satisfy everyone’s needs. Yet, sometimes you slip into an angry boss tone completely forgetting to apologize. While this seems to be a minor issue in the grand scheme of events, it can lead to major losses.

When you know something is truly your fault saying “I’m sorry” is not enough.

Instead, you shall first apply active listening to whatever the other side has to say. This means that you listen patiently to every single word, no matter how hurtful it may seem, and really hear the pain of the other side, no matter if you agree or disagree with it. The goal here is to step into the other side’s shoes and see the situation with their eyes.

If you sense that both of you are too emotional and your patience is at the edge – say “I really appreciate what you’ve shared with me. I would like to take some time to think it over if you don’t mind. Can we come back to this discussion tomorrow?”.

As Harriet Lerner writes in her book “Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts“:

“Letting go of anger and hate requires us to give up the hope for a different past, along with the hope of a fantasized future. What we gain is life more in the present, where we are not mired in prolonged anger and resentment that doesn’t serve us.”

And this is exactly what you will use your time alone for – letting go of anger, hate, bitterness.

When you are back to the initial discussion you shall start with “I appreciate everything you’ve shared with me yesterday. It helped me see the situation how it looks from your side. I am sorry for my being angry…”

You shall say exactly what you are sorry for, not “I’m sorry that you…”, or “I’m sorry that it made you…” because in this way you put the responsibility for the situation on the other person’s shoulders and this will lead you nowhere.

The apology that is full of emotions but lacks responsibility is not a sincere apology.

When you apologize – make your apology short. As Harriet Lerner writes:

“The best apologies are short and don’t go on to include explanations that run the risk of undoing them. An apology isn’t the only chance you ever get to address the underlying issue. The apology is the chance you get to establish the ground for future communication. This is an important and often overlooked distinction.”

Be precise. Accept the part you are responsible for and apologize for it. In the end, you may say: “The things that go wrong often make the best memories.”

Considering that you are a startup founder (read overachiever), you might think: “Well, what if I don’t feel like apologizing? I don’t have time for it.” The point is – learning how to do things when you don’t feel like it can turn small starts into exceptional results, and you will never have time for it, that’s why you must create time for it.

As Harriet Lerner writes:

“But here is the real point when it comes to the challenge of apologies. If our intention is to have a better relationship, we need to be our best and most mature selves, rather than reacting to the other person’s reactivity. Also, some of the other person’s complaints will be true, since we can’t possibly get it right all the time.”

And from these complaints you can learn.

Surely, everything looks simple when you are not the one doing it. So, as simple as this guide may seem to you – it’s not. But the more you apply it in practice the faster it will become one of the most valuable habits you’ve ever mastered.

Or as Harriet Lerner puts it:

“Sometimes, your failure to apologize hits the other person harder than the deed you should apologize for. So the faster you make a genuine apology a habit the happier your relationships will be.”


  • Alla Adam

    Smart Human | Lean Startup Coach | Investor | Author


    Alla Adam is an investor, and a master certified coach with an MBA, MS & BS in international economic relations and marketing. Alla also holds two executive education certifications from Yale School of Management and Harvard Law School, both in negotiation strategies. She is an affiliate member at The Institute of Coaching, McLean/Harvard Medical School, and HeartMath Institute. Alla is proudly future-proofing humans across the globe since 2003. Alla's Client list includes smart humans from such companies & institutions as Amazon, Google, Kraft Heinz, Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Danone, PepsiCo, Nestle, JTI, Ernst & Young, BlaBlaCar, Forbes, London Business School, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, etc. She is an advocate for womxn & LGBTQ rights, and an author of two Playbooks: Million Dollar Coach Playbook and Million Dollar Investor Playbook.