A 2016 study published in Negotiation and Conflict Management Research found that a good apology needs to contain these 6 components: an expression of regret, an explanation of what went wrong, acknowledge of responsibility, a declaration of repentance, and offer of repair, and a request for forgiveness.
And while that’s a good start, recent thoughts from TED speaker and psychologist Dr. Jennifer Thomas expand the importance of tailoring your apology to whom you’re giving it to – and taking into consideration the person’s apology language (akin to the 5 love languages, devised by Dr. Gary Chapman).
“Apologies really differ from person to person according to what their apology language is and so I found, for example, that saying, ‘I’m wrong and I’m sorry’ will reach 77% of people. But the remaining 23% are waiting to hear three other things and that’s why we have our five apology languages.”
They are, according to Thomas, expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting and requesting forgiveness.
And below is her advice for apologizing to the different individuals in your life.
To a Romantic Partner
It’s important to express your regret and ask for forgiveness – apologize for what you did wrong without blaming the other person for your actions, letting them know you understand you were at fault.
Thomas also suggests making your devotion and commitment to the relationship clear. That means incorporating the ‘declaration of repentance’ apology language and specifically outlining how things are going to be different going forward to remind them that you’re invested in a future together.
To a Co-Worker
You’ve spent time building trust with your co-workers, and it’s important to do your best not to lose it – by combining ‘I’m wrong’ with ‘I’m sorry,’ you’ll reach around 80% of the people you work with.
Also, resist the urge to bring other people into it – instead keep it between the two of you. What happened can’t be blamed on the boss, the network, or anyone else.
To a Parent
Blaming, excusing, and denying – don’t fall into the trap of making one of these common blunders when apologizing to your parent, and use every apology tool at your disposal, instead. If you’ve hurt a parent, expressing regret and asking for forgiveness are your best bets, but acknowledging that you’ve hurt them won’t fail you, either.
As with your romantic partner, outlining how you plan to behave differently in the future will help, too.
To a Child
If you think you don’t have to say ‘I’m sorry’ to your kids, you’re wrong. Not only are they people who deserve to hear it when we’ve behaved less-than-ideally, but it will accomplish two other important things: it lets them know that everyone makes mistakes and it models how one should handle it appropriately when we’re the one making them.
Thomas says expressing regret at your failure is key in this situation, as well as making clear your intention to try harder and to do better in the future.
There you go! I think this is great advice, because no matter how hard we try, we’re all human and we mess up – so having a good apology strategy in your back pocket can’t hurt.
I’m sure you’ll get the chance to practice it soon enough.