Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

How to Craft the ‘Perfect’ Apology (According to Science)

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How to Craft the 'Perfect Apology' (According to Science)

Apologies come in lots of versions – the great ones, the average ones, the ‘why’d you even bother ones’ and the ones that have the anti-inflammatory effect of salt on an open wound.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes the damage can be repaired with a quick, ‘sorry’. Sometimes it will take a lot more. If the mistake is one that brings a richly coloured telling off, or worse – stone cold silence (we’ve all been there), science might have something that can help. New research has found the secrets of a winning apology.

According to the research, for a fighting chance at forgiveness, there are six things to include when apologising:

  1. Expression of regret.
      (‘I’m sorry I ruined your yoga pants.’)
  2. Explanation of what went wrong.
      (‘I thought the tag was kidding about the ‘dry-clean only’ thing.’) (At this point it’s best to keep to yourself your opinions on the practicality of ‘dry-clean only’ yoga pants.)
  3. Acknowledgement of responsibility.
      (‘It was my fault. I should have been more careful.’)
  4. Declaration of repentance.
      (‘I really am so sorry. I was wrong not to pay attention to the care label. I’ll be much more careful in future.’)
  5. Offer of repair
      (‘I’d like to buy you another pair.’)
  6. Request for forgiveness.
      (‘Can you forgive me?’)

A winning apology contains all six components, and the more elements the apology contains, the more effective, credible and adequate the apology will be. 

The research also found that the elements aren’t equal in importance. The most important part of a sincere apology is acknowledging responsibility.

‘Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility. Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake.’ Professor Roy Lewicki, first author, professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

The next most important is to make an offer to repair the damage.

‘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.’ – Professor Roy Lewicki.

The next most important on the list are expressing regret, explaining what went wrong, and saying that you will repent.

At the bottom of the list was asking for forgiveness. If you are apologising with a sincere, well-thought, well-rounded apology, it’s probably clear enough that you want things to be okay again between you.

Not suprisingly, the researchers also noted that on top of the six spoken elements, the way in which the apology is delivered also makes a difference. Eye contact, emotion, voice inflection, and the expression of sincerity will all contribute to making the apology go the distance.

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