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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