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Fitness & Health

14th Apr 2016

Here’s the six-step guide to making the perfect apology

Sorry doesn't need to be the hardest word

Carl Anka

You’ve messed up and you need to apologise.

Maybe you were late. Maybe you ate that last biscuit when someone was saving it. Maybe you were trying to be funny and it came out mean.

Either way, you need to say sorry, and you need to do it well, because you don’t fancy being in the doghouse.


Help is at hand, thanks to researchers from Ohio State University, who have just completed a study into what makes the perfect apology. They believe they have cracked the code into making you saying sorry that much more meaningful.

“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 was compiled from studies – one of 333 adults, another of 422 undergraduate students – asking them read a number of apologies that imagined them as a potential employer who spotted a tricky lie on a job application.

Ready to dive in on what they found worked best? Here’s how you make the perfect apology.

Express regret


The very first thing you have to do when saying sorry is express regret. Admit that something or someone has done wrong and that sets up everything else.

Explain what went wrong


Once you’ve acknowledged that something has gone wrong and caused hurt to someone, your next step is to explain it. There are few things more awkward than apologising to someone and having them turn around and say, ‘You completely missed the point’. Set out your stall early so everyone knows what exactly you’re apologising for.


Acknowledge your responsibility


Ever get one of those wishy-washy “sorry if you took it that way” apologies? They’re annoying as balls, and just a sneaky way people get themselves off the hook. Avoid them.

“Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility. Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake,” said Lewicki.

So own your apology. If you care enough to say sorry, do it properly and admit it was your fault. (At least in part).

Say you want to change in future


Self-awareness without self-improvement is nothing but narcissistic wanking. If you know you were in the wrong, offer to change so it doesn’t happen again. Repent, as the church goers may put it.

Offer to fix things


“One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap,” said Lewicki. “But by saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong’, you’re committing to take action to undo the damage.”

If it can be broken, it can be fixed. All you need is time and a little bit of effort. Always offer to fix things if you truly mean your apology.

Finally, ask for forgiveness.


Asking for forgiveness was deemed the “least effective” element of apology that the researcher’s studied, but it can’t hurt to ask at the end. Best patch things up all the way rather than let things fester.

And there you have it: the six-step method to the perfect apology. Print it out and have it on hand next time you pull a whoopsie.

Or you could skip all this and not make a mistake in the first place. But life would be no fun that way.