An apology is a powerful means of reconciliation and restoring trust. However, sometimes even a well-intentioned apology 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:
Sometimes it is helpful to include an explanation of why the perceived offender acted a particular way, but it’s important not to reiterate the offense or to give a flippant excuse or defensive justification. (Example: “What I did was a poor attempt at humor.” But not, “When I’m mad, I can say anything but I don’t really mean it.”)
The circumstances of the apology are also important, and should be carefully planned. Many people appreciate a written apology, because it implies time and effort put into this step toward reconciliation. Some people who have been offended want an opportunity to state the intensity of their pain or embarrassment directly to the offender. Some people would appreciate a face-to-face apology, and a chance to shake hands or otherwise take the next step toward improved future relations. Some people who apologize want an acknowledgement that the apology has been received, or that the offender is forgiven.
© 2003 Marsha L. Wagner, Columbia University adapted with permission
Last Updated: 9/19/07