When you really, truly need to apologize for something you’ve done, something that has wronged or insulted or hurt your partner, you need to understand what a true apology consists of.
So, what makes for a good apology? You have to mean it, sure. But, there’s a narrative structure that a good apology should follow.
Roy Lewicki, professor emeritus of management and human resources at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, is an expert in the art of negotiation as well as rebuilding trust.
He’s spent years researching the ideal apology and he’s broken down the perfect apology into six distinct components:
- Expression of regret
- Explanation of what went wrong
- Acknowledgement of responsibility
- Declaration of repentance
- Offer of repair
- Request for forgiveness
Understand these six steps and you’ll be able to craft an apology that really, truly means something.
It sounds a little complex, but Lewicki explains that, when followed properly, these six steps are not only very simple but also quite effective.
We asked Lewicki to break down each one and explain how and why they work so well.
1. Expression of regret
To start, you simply must tell the other person that you’re sorry for what you did.
It’s important that you get this part right because it will set the tone for everything that follows.
Tone is crucial. If you sound insincere, sarcastic, or at all annoyed, then whatever else you have to say next will ring hollow.
2. Explanation of what went wrong
Here is where you have a chance to explain your side of the story and try and let your spouse or partner know that, whatever mistake you made, there was a reason behind it.
This can go a long way toward letting your spouse see what your thinking was behind your actions and perhaps change their perspective on why they’re upset.
If they think you did something wrong, because you’re thoughtless or don’t care, but then hear your actual reasoning behind your error, it can soften them up a lot.
3. Acknowledgement of responsibility
This is a hard one for some people to do because it requires them to step out from behind their own ego and defensiveness and simply fall on the sword.
If you did something wrong, you just have to own it.
This is key, as it can signal to your partner that you’re aware of your actions and that you accept your role in it.
A non-apology or shifting of the blame will only make things worse here.
4. Declaration of repentance
Here’s where sincerity really comes into play.
You have to step up and promise that whatever happened will never happen again.
It’s a promise to not repeat your actions.
5. Offer of repair
So you’ve said that you’re sorry, but what are you going to do to make it right?
How will you move forward from here?
Letting your spouse know that you’re not just sorry in the moment, but that you’ve established a plan to go forward and fix things in the long-term will make the apology go down a lot easier.
6. Request for forgiveness
Interestingly, Lewicki’s research marked this as the least important element in the apology.
Provided you nailed the other five, this one should just be a formality.