For an effective apology, admit what you did, and then offer to fix whatever damage was done.
You make a mistake, you hurt someone’s feelings, you negatively impact a work effort, you do something you should not have done.
And then you apologize. And sometimes, that apology is accepted and everyone moves on.
But how do you make certain your apology will be effective, get properly received, and be acknowledged as heartfelt and genuine?
It turns out there is research on this subject, thanks to Roy Plawecki and Robert Lount from Ohio State and Beth Polin of Eastern Kentucky University. Their research was published in the May 2016 issue of the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research.
The researchers determined there are six components to an effective apology, and some components are more necessary than others.
“Apologies really do work, but you should make sure you hit as many of the six key components as possible,’’ said Lewicki, professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
To conduct their research, the report authors tested 755 people, putting them in the position of a business manager interviewing a job applicant. On the applicant’s resume, the potential employee related a mistake he had made at a previous job related to a tax issue. The employee apologized to his former employer.
Approximately half of the study group were told which of the six elements were in the apology, and the other half read apologies that included the elements in different number and combination.
What was discovered was that the most important aspect of a good apology is admitting you did what you are apologizing for doing.
“Our findings show that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility,’’ Lewicki said. “Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake.”
The second most important element of a good apology is an offer to repair the damage done by your mistake, if that is possible.
“One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap,’’ Lewicki said. “But buy saying ‘I will fix what is wrong’, you are committing to take action to undo the damage.”
Three elements of an effective apology – expression of regret, explanation of what happened and a declaration of repentance – all scored equally in terms of apology acceptance.
A request for forgiveness can be helpful, but is the least significant part of a strong apology.
“That’s the one you can leave out if you have to,’’ Lewicki said.
The study showed that when an apology included more of the six components listed above, the apology was more effective. When evaluated one at a time, there was general agreement as to which element was most important and which was least important.
Another aspect of the experiment was that the study group members were either told the employee made the mistake because he did not know better or the employee made the mistake knowingly. With that dynamic, the apology was always less effective coming from the person who knew what they were doing when they made the mistake.
The study did not include any actual spoken apologies, but Lewicki said it is obvious apologies are more effective when offered in person.
“Clearly, things like eye contact and appropriate expression of sincerity are important when you give a face-to-face apology,’’ Lewicki said.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.