Inevitably, people make mistakes, it is what makes us human. Either those mistakes are done willingly or unwillingly, they damage our relationships and hurt the people we care about: our friends, family, spouses, children or colleagues. If we want to keep a healthy relationship, apologizing is the only way to repair and heal what has been damaged. It is a way to show care and foster respect and affection. It is a necessary step toward validating feelings, promoting forgiveness, and restoring balance and trust in a relationship. However, it is not always easy to apologize and to apologize effectively.
To formulate an effective apology, there are four essential parts:
1: acknowledgment of the offense (recognize your responsibility and express your empathy);
2: an explanation of what went wrong;
3: expressions of remorse;
4: offer of reparation and commitment to improving.
Apologizing requires honesty, humility, generosity, and courage. The offended party can recognize that and reward you with forgiveness and reconciliation. However, a lack of ownership, blame or excuses, and lack of appropriate reparation could lead to resentment, grudges or even desire for vengeance.
These four steps increase the chance of forgiveness because they satisfy the psychological needs of the offended person. They help to restore their sense of dignity, validating that they are not deserving of the harm caused and that they are not to blame. It gives them a chance to express their feelings and contribute to a sense of justice. Finally, it can also provide reinsurance that they are safe from further harm, making them more likely to trust you again.
We are never too young to learn the importance of taking care of our relationships. Teaching children the ways to repair when they have hurt people helps them develop humility, empathy and a sense of responsibility that will help them foster healthy relationships throughout their lives.
Link to start the discussion with children and help them practice:
Evidence that this 4 steps apology works:
Lewicki, R. J., Polin, B., & Lount, R. B. (2016). An exploration of the structure of effective apologies. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 9(2), 177-196.
To read more on the subject:
- Aaron Lazare, M.D., Former Chancellor and Dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of On Apology.
- Lazare, A. (2004). Making Peace Through Apology. Greater Good.
- Lazare, A. (2004). What an Apology Must Do. Greater Good.