Elements of an apology


© 1999 Marsha L. Wagner, Columbia University

Elements of an Effective Apology

An apology is a powerful means of reconciliation and restoring trust. However, sometimes even well-intentioned apologies can exacerbate a conflict. It may be helpful to consider what elements to include in a statement of apology to make it most effective and constructive. Not all elements apply to all situations. Some of the most common considerations include the following:

1.A common understanding of the exact substance and nature of the offense, or perceived offense. (Example: “Yesterday on the telephone, I said….”)

2.Recognition of responsibility or accountability on the part of the one who offended. (Example: “I could have chosen other words.” “I spoke without thinking.”)

3.Acknowledgement of the pain or embarrassment that the offended party experienced. (Example: “It’s understandable that was upsetting to you.” “If someone had said that to me, I would not have liked it, either.” But not, “I’m sorry you’re so easily hurt.”)

4.A judgment about the offense. (Example: “I was insensitive.” “What I did was wrong.”) 5

.A statement of regret. (Example: “I’m sorry I used those words.”)

6.An indication of future intentions. (Example: “In the future, I will try to think about the impact of my words before speaking.” “I hope we can have a relationship of mutual respect.”)

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