There are six components to a really effective apology, according to new research.
- Expression of regret
- Explanation of what went wrong
- Acknowledgment of responsibility
- Declaration of repentance
- Offer of repair
- Request for forgiveness
However, two are more important than the others.
Top of the list is acknowledging responsibility, explained Professor Roy Lewicki, the study’s first author:
“Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility.
Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake.”
After acknowledging responsibility, the second most effective strategy is to make an offer of repair.
Professor Lewicki said:
“One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap.
But by saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong,’ you’re committing to take action to undo the damage.”
Next most important are expressing regret, explaining what went wrong and saying you will repent.
Bottom of the list was asking for forgiveness, said Professor Lewicki:
“That’s the one you can leave out if you have to.”
The conclusions come from a study in which people read a variety of scenarios in which a person made a mistake for which they had to apologise.
The apology contained either one, three or all six of the components.
People rated the different grades of apology for their effectiveness.
This study only tested the effectiveness of written components.
Other factors will also be important, said Professor Lewicki:
“Clearly, things like eye contact and appropriate expression of sincerity are important when you give a face-to-face apology.”
It can also be easy to overestimate the power of an apology, as I’ve written previously:
The study was published in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research (Lewicki et al., 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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