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Vlad-Stefan Harbuz

Effective Apologies

There are bad apologies, and good apologies. I think an effective apology is one that communicates our feelings accurately to the person we have wronged, and that enables them to forgive us for our transgression so that the relationship can be repaired. The best resource I know of for figuring out how to make a good apology is a 2009 literature review by Kirchhoff, Strack and Jäger, in which they identified 10 components of effective apologies. Obviously, this does not mean that an apology should be formulaic, but rather that it is usually more effective when it includes more of these components. A more severe offence usually warrants a more complex apology involving more of the components. On the other hand, a complex apology might seem “too much” when used for a trivial offence, for which a simple apology might be more appropriate.

The components, as I understand them, are:

  1. Making it clear that you’re apologising — “I want to apologise”
  2. Naming the offence — “What I did was…”
  3. Taking responsibility — “I am responsible for what happened”
  4. Explaining the cause, without making excuses — “I have an issue where I…”
  5. Sincerely expressing remorse — “I feel bad about…”
  6. Addressing the other’s emotions — “I can imagine that you felt hurt…”
  7. Admitting fault — “I shouldn’t have done this”
  8. Promising forbearance — “I don’t want to do this again”
  9. Offering reparation — “I will make it up to you by…”
  10. Requesting acceptance — “I hope you can forgive me”

This is my formulation of the components, which I’ve based on a couple of sources, and have tried to make as clear as possible. Here are the resources I have found useful for this topic: