How to Get Someone to Forgive You

How to apologise effectively, according to science.

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Researchers from the University of Ohio recently outlined what makes an effective apology — aka an 'I'm sorry' that will actually get someone to forgive you. Whether you're attempting to make amends with a friend, colleague, romantic partner, or family member, here are six things your apologies need to include in order not to sound like a cheap excuse. (According to science, that is.)

1. An expression of regret. Think: 'I truly wish I'd thought first before saying that nasty comment about your hair.' Or, 'I feel so bad about having offended you/stood you up/let you down.' Or, 'I can't believe I broke your favourite coffee mug.'

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2. Some explanation of where things went wrong. Examples: 'I didn't realise that you were sensitive about that issue; I was under the impression you'd find it funny.' 'I knew I was going to be late so I misguidedly assumed it was better not to show up at all.' Or, 'I was trying to clean it for you but it fell on the floor in the process.'

3. An acknowledgment of your responsibility in the matter. Like, 'I messed up.' 'I was wrong about ___.' 'I owe you an apology.' 'I should have been more careful when handling that ceramic cup.'

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4. A declaration of repentance. (Aka some signal you're not going to make the same mistake again.) Consider: 'I will think more before opening my mouth and be more mindful of your sensitivities.' 'I will arrive early next time or avoid making plans on days where my schedule stretches me too thin, so I don't end up canceling last minute.'

5. An offer to repair. Try: 'I'd like to make it up to you by taking you out to dinner/helping you move/...' Or, 'To make it up, I'll come to that open mic you need people in the audience for next weekend.' 'I'd like to buy you a new mug or pay you twice as much as you bought it for.'

6. A request for forgiveness. Examples: 'Would you forgive me for this major mishap?' Or, 'Do you think we can move forward and consider my mistake a blip in an otherwise solid friendship/relationship?''At its essence,' the study authours write in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 'the mere offering of an apology shows that the apologiser understands there is a "social requirement" to an apology when any sort of harm is done.'


Owning your responsibility for whatever horrible thing(s) you made happen, they add, is the most crucial element of an apology. (After all, research shows that victims see people who've wronged them in a more positive light when the latter at least takes responsibility for having violated them.) But if you really want to get back into whomsoever-you've-upset's good graces, you're going to want to express regret, explain what happened, and try to compensate the person you harmed.Top it off with a request for forgiveness and you 'transform the apology from a unilateral set of statements made by the violator to a bilateral communication process, asking for the victim's participation in the trust repair process,' the authors write. Translation: Ask to be let off the hook and you make the apology process a two-way street, which can be more appealing to the person you're, well, trying to appeal to.Of course, not every apology will be perfect. But to the extent that you can nail as many of the above components as possible — especially the owning responsibility part — you'll probably lower your odds of having one more grudge held against you.

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