What makes an effective apology?

Owning up to your mistakes is important to all relationships, especially close ones. Mistakes often violate trust. But you can apologize and restore that trust, helping others feel secure.

Admitting fault helps you too. Those who actively seek forgiveness tend to be more agreeable and open to forgiving others. And make sure to maintain eye contact when you start the conversation. This lets the other person know you’re fully engaged. The tone of your voice is important too. Be sincere.

Successful apologies contain 6 elements. Be ready to right the wrong and rebuild trust in your relationship.

  • Admit you messed up. An effective apology begins with taking responsibility and understanding that your words or actions damaged trust. Own up and clearly say you know what you did was wrong.
  • Offer amends. Explain how you’ll make things better. Show concern for fixing the situation and repairing the relationship.
  • Communicate your feelings. Share your feelings about the situation, especially if you feel regret, shame, or embarrassment. Or maybe you feel foolish or humbled. Coming clean about your mistake—and its effect on your emotions—shows sincerity.
  • Explain the situation. Spell out the reasons behind your actions. Your point of view also can help shed light on why things happened. But it doesn’t excuse your behavior. This is especially important because you’ll want to make sure the situation doesn’t happen again.  
  • Commit to repairing—not repeating—the mistake. Guarantee that it won’t happen again. Your promise helps reestablish confidence in the relationship.
  • Ask for forgiveness. Turn the conversation back to the one you’re apologizing to and commit to do better. Take an active part in rebuilding trust together.