The six elements of an effective apology, according to science

April 12, 2016, The Ohio State University
A new study found there are six elements to an effective apology. Credit: The Ohio State University

There are six components to an apology - and the more of them you include when you say you're sorry, the more effective your apology will be, according to new research.

But if you're pressed for time or space, there are two elements that are the most critical to having your accepted.

"Apologies really do work, but you should make sure you hit as many of the six key components as possible," said Roy Lewicki, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.

In two separate experiments, Lewicki and his co-authors tested how 755 people reacted to apologies containing anywhere from one to all six of these elements:

1. Expression of regret

2. Explanation of what went wrong

3. Acknowledgment of responsibility

4. Declaration of repentance

5. Offer of repair

6. Request for forgiveness

The research is published in the May 2016 issue of the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research. Lewicki's co-authors were Robert Lount, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State, and Beth Polin of Eastern Kentucky University.

While the best apologies contained all six elements, not all of these components are equal, the study found.

"Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility. Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake," Lewicki said.

The second most important element was an offer of repair.

"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," he said.

The next three elements were essentially tied for third in effectiveness: expression of regret, explanation of what went wrong and declaration of repentance.

The least effective element of an apology is a request for forgiveness. "That's the one you can leave out if you have to," Lewicki said.

The first study involved 333 adults recruited online through Amazon's MTURK program. All the participants read a scenario in which they were the manager of an accounting department that was hiring a new employee.

At a previous job, the potential employee had filed an incorrect tax return that understated a client's capital gains income. When confronted about the issue, the job candidate apologized.

The participants were told that the apology contained one, three or all six of the apology components. They were then asked to rate on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very) how effective, credible and adequate the apology statement would be.

The second study included 422 undergraduate students. The students read the same scenario as in the first study, but instead of being told which components the apology contained, they read an actual apology that included anywhere from one to six statements based on the six elements. For example, for acknowledgment of responsibility, the apology statement read "I was wrong in what I did, and I accepted responsibility for my actions."

They again rated how effective, credible and adequate the apology statement would be.

The results of the two studies were not identical, but they were very similar, Lewicki said. For both studies, the more elements that the apology contained, the more effective it was rated.

When the elements were evaluated one at a time, there was general consistency in the importance of the components across the two studies, with slight variations. But in both studies, the request for forgiveness was seen as least important.

In both studies, half the respondents were told the job applicant's incorrect tax return was related to competence: He was not knowledgeable in all relevant tax codes. The other half were told it was related to integrity: He knowingly filed the incorrectly.

The value of each of the six components was the same whether the apology was related to failures of competence or integrity. But overall, participants were less likely to accept apologies when the job applicant showed a lack of integrity versus a lack of competence.

Lewicki noted that, in this work, participants simply read apology statements. But the emotion and voice inflection of a spoken apology may have powerful effects, as well.

"Clearly, things like eye contact and appropriate expression of sincerity are important when you give a face-to-face apology," he said.

Explore further: 'Sorry' doesn't heal children's hurt, but it mends relations

More information: Roy J. Lewicki et al. An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research (2016). DOI: 10.1111/ncmr.12073

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8 comments

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compose
Apr 12, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2016
I'll apply this, once the physicists will start to explain, why they ignored cold fusion
@zephir
perhaps you should first apologize for the blatant mistakes by Fleishman-Pons which started the whole mess?

better yet... because you're a pseudoscience aetherist, start by apologizing for screwing up in the first place with your aether pseudoscience

can't do it, can you?
hypocrite

science works because it advances based upon repeatable experimentation and evidence... not on beliefs

that means, by definition, your problem with cold fusion isn't with science at all, but with the failure of the repeatable experimentation and evidence proving it works to the level you keep claiming it works to...

IOW - you're no better than gkam

compose
Apr 12, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2016
Mistakes? Blatant?
@zephir
https://en.wikipe...d_fusion

The cold fusion finding has been ignored not just once, but at least three-times...
i wonder why?
maybe because...
that means, by definition, your problem with cold fusion isn't with science at all, but with the failure of the repeatable experimentation and evidence proving it works to the level you keep claiming it works to...
which is what i said above?

so... if that isn't true, and you can provide the evidence for the mistakes of all mainstream science...

where is your nobel for finding free energy?
compose
Apr 12, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
3.4 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2016
isn't updated last two years?
@zephir
obviously it is a conspiracy against cold fusion, right?
LMFAO
also- reddit is not source material

the only reason that i even linked the wiki page is because it has valid information that is verifiable with the referenced links (evidence)
The databases of articles about cold fusion grows daily
yeah, and the database of angel sightings grows daily too
your point?
perhaps you forgot the important part?
by definition, your problem with cold fusion isn't with science at all, but with the failure of the repeatable experimentation and evidence proving it works to the level you keep claiming it works to
re-read that again
A pluralistic ignorance before our eyes?
it can't be pluralistic ignorance if you can't prove, with evidence, you are correct
and since you can't
the only ignorance of any kind is on your part

re-read my quote again

now again

now again

get the point yet?

Science works, byotch
compose
Apr 12, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Apr 18, 2016
Trump never apologizes. I think this sets a good example for all of us.

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