Updated: Apr 29, 2019

Once in a while, we all need to apologize for something. Researchers who’ve examined the issue are out with guidelines on what you need to include in the conversation if an apology is going to be effective. Merely saying “I’m sorry” just isn’t enough.

In a study published in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, a team at The Ohio State University cited six key components you should consider in all apologies. The components were found by analyzing the effectiveness of apologies of more than 700 people. The preferred apologies included many, if not all, of these key messages:

1. Acknowledging responsibility

2. Expressing regret

3. Explaining what went wrong

4. Declaring repentance

5. Offering repair

6. Requesting forgiveness

“From my perspective, there is much in this research that may benefit both the person receiving the apology as well as the one offering it,” says Dr. Marla Hartzen, a psychiatrist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Those who take this study to heart and work to take thoughtful ownership of errors are likely to mend fences most successfully in professional, social and family situations.”

The lead author of the study, Roy Lewicky, a professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University, agrees. “One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap. By saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong’, you are committing to take action to undo the damage.”

Interestingly enough, the least effective component — the one you could leave out, is a request for forgiveness. Taking accountability or acknowledging responsibility was the most effective.

“There can be an internal advantage to the person apologizing,” adds Dr. Hartzen. “In learning to identify our part of the blame, we move away from demonizing others and acquire a more balanced, nuanced and mature understanding of how we interact with those around us.”

I know that I can use help in this area. I think most people can. It's so hard to admit when we're wrong, but with practice it should become easier and easier and all of our relationships will benefit from it!

Source: Advocate Health News by Evonne Woloshyn

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