Offering a handshake

What makes an effective apology?

No matter who you are there will be times when you will need to apologise. The question will be whether your apologise is well received or not and according to a new study if it is to be accepted an apology needs to contain six elements but if you can’t muster all six, there are two elements that are absolutely essential.

To arrive at these conclusions researchers conducted two experiments. The first experiment involved 333 subjects who read a scenario where an applicant for a job with an accounting firm had at a previous job filed an incorrect tax return understating a client’s capital gains income. When confronted the applicant apologised and the apology was manipulated to contain either one, three, or all six of the components of an apology. The subjects were asked to rate the apology in terms of how credible and accurate it would seem.

An apology needs to contain six elements but if you can't muster all six, there are two elements that are absolutely essential.

In the second experiment 422 subjects read the same scenario as in the first study but instead of being told which elements the apology contained they read an actual apology that contained anywhere from one to six of the elements and then again rated it.

In both studies in some instances the subjects were told that the original mistake arose through incompetence while others were told it related to integrity and knowingly filing an incorrect tax return.

The results from the two experiments were not identical but very similar, certainly similar enough to rank the elements of an apology in order of importance.

The six elements of an apology were: 1. Expression of regret 2. Explanation of what went wrong 3. Acknowledgement of responsibility 4. Declaration of repentance 5. Offer of repair 6. Request for forgiveness. The findings showed that acknowledgement of responsibility is the most important element, so you should say that it is your fault and that you made a mistake. Second on the list was “offer of repair” and these are the two elements that are essential to an apology being regarded as adequate. Ranked next and equal for importance were “expression of regret”, “explanation of what went wrong”, and “declaration of repentance”. The least important element was “request for forgiveness”.

So the more of these elements that are included in your apology the better it will be received but if your apology needs to be quick and effective just admit your mistake and offer to make things good.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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