What Constitutes an Apology?

By — on / Conflict Resolution

Psychologists Bruce Darby and Barry Schlenker at the University of Florida have defined apologies as “admissions of blameworthiness and regret for an undesirable event.” In negotiation, such undesirable events might include betraying a counterpart’s trust, making a disparaging remark about him, or falling through on a promise.

Building on previous research, seven components of an apology have been identified and are illustrated here with statements you might make to an employee who was passed over for a promotion:

1. An apology statement: “I’m sorry.”

2. An expression of remorse: “I feel awful.”

3. An offer to help: “I’ll do whatever I can to push through the promotion.”

4. Self-castigation: “I can’t believe I made such a terrible oversight.”

5. A direct request for forgiveness: “Please forgive me.”

6. A promise regarding future behavior: “I promise to be more careful.”

7. An explanation: “I was distracted by the crisis at the Atlanta office, and I simply forgot to file the paperwork.”

Effective apologies can include some or all of these elements. Generally speaking, though, the more serious the violation, the greater the need to use numerous apology components. The effectiveness of an apology also depends on a number of other factors, including the nature of the violation, the negotiation context, and the way in which the apology is delivered.

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Related Article: What Can an Apology Do?

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2 Responses to “What Constitutes an Apology?”

  • Jeff J.

    In think the main component was excluded. That is a true feeling of remorse. Without it no apology is sincere despite the inclusion of other elements

  • Michael T.

    Some are afraid of making apologies because either their ego can’t tolerate the idea of a moment of contrition or because they fear the consequences of admitting wrongdoing. However, what such people fail to realize is the power that comes with an apology, both for a specific moment with the other party and for personally, for themselves.

    It has been said by someone smarter than me that only the strong can apologize, that it is not a sign of weakness but instead strength.

    When you are strong and humble both, when you show humanity with courage, you maintain or gain respect and often, admiration.

    That sells in both negotiation and your personal life.

    That approach creates attraction.

    So not wanting to apologize is self destructive as much as it is destructive.

    The above-mentioned components of an apology are valuable guidelines and utilizing most or all of them each time we aggrieve others will develop our character, treat fellow human beings in a way that reflects well on us and allow us to achieve great heights.


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