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Research Study Offers Guide to the Effective Apology


Everyone should know how to make an effectively apology, especially, perhaps, in the aftermath on a contentious local election.

According to new research there are six components to an effective apology. But if you are pressed for time there is good news! Two of the six elements are the most critical. And asking for forgiveness is not in the top two.

“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.

The research team tested 755 people to learn how they reacted to pre-written apologies containing one to six of these components:

  1. Expression of regret (I'm sorry)
  2. Explanation of what went wrong (I screwed up)
  3. Acknowledgment of responsibility (It was my fault)
  4. Declaration of repentance (I will never do it again)
  5. Offer of repair (I will make it right)
  6. Request for forgiveness (Please forgive me)

The findings are published in the May 2016 issue of the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research.

The title of the paper is, "An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies." Lewicki’s co-authors were Robert Lount, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State, and Beth Polin of Eastern Kentucky University.

“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 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.




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