The 6 elements of an effective apology, as shown by one of the best apology songs ever.

Ever stumbled for a good way to say you're sorry?

Don't worry, science has your back. Researchers at Ohio State University recently broke an apology down into six basic components and asked over 700 people to rate which ones — and which combinations of them — were most effective.

Want to know what the six elements were?

No list is complete without examples, so let's take the catchiest apology ever — "Apology Song" by The Decemberists — as our test subject. (If you don't know the song, by the way, it's about apologizing to a friend after letting their bike, Madeleine, get stolen. You can listen to it here.)


1. First, an "expression of regret." In other words, say you're sorry.

Alas, poor Madeleine. Photo from iStock.

This is a simple one and maybe not as important as some of the other elements in this list, but it's remarkable how many times people try to apologize without, you know, apologizing.

So how do The Decemberists measure up? Pretty good. They nail this one right at the beginning of the song:

"I'm really sorry, Steven, / But your bicycle's been stolen."

Pretty good! But what's next?

2. An explanation of what went wrong.

I can't help but notice the conspicuous lack of bikes here, Colin. Photo from iStock.

It's a good idea to explain what happened. An explanation isn't an excuse, but it can help the aggrieved person understand the circumstances.

So, Decemberists?

"I meant her no harm / When I left her unlocked / Outside the Orange Street Food Farm. / I was just running in / Didn't think I'd be that long. / I came out, she was gone."

Takes them a little bit to get to it, but it's in there. Doing good so far!

3. An acknowledgment of responsibility: "It's my fault."

Photo from iStock.

OK, this is a biggie. And is actually one of the most important parts of an apology, according to the study. If something is your fault, admit it.

Let's check the lyrics:

"I was watching it for you / 'Til you came back in the fall. / I guess I didn't do such a good job after all."

That last part — "I didn't do such a good job" — that's the key. It was their fault, and they're willing to admit it. So far, they've been hitting all the right notes.

4. A declaration of repentance – "I won't let it happen again."

Like this times a thousand. Photo from iStock.

Showing that you've learned a lesson and are taking steps to make sure it won't happen again is another important point.

Unfortunately, it's one that The Decemberists miss in this song. If they wanted full marks, they should have explained how they were going to invest in some super-duper bike locks or a personal bike guard dog or something equally anti-theft.

In verse, of course.

5. This is another big one: offering to make it right.

I hope Madeleine 2 gets some sweet flame decals. Photo from iStock.

Ouch, another one The Decemberists missed, and it's a biggie — saying how you'll fix the problem.

So what could The Decemberists have done differently? Well, they do say:

"Where has she gone? / Well, I bet she's on the bottom of a Frenchtown pond."

This is the point where they should have sung about breaking out the scuba gear or draining the pond to get to poor Madeleine. (Ponds are apparently completely filled with bicycles anyways, if that canal proves anything.)

Or, you know, getting them a new bike. But scuba diving's more fun.

6. Lastly, a request for forgiveness.

Photo from iStock.

This is actually the least important part of the apology.

"That's the one you can leave out if you have to," said the study's lead author, Roy Lewicki, in a press release.

But it's always good to include it if you have time. And on this, The Decemberists nail it again:

"So I wrote you this song / In the hopes that you'd forgive me / Even though it was wrong / being so careless with a thing so great."

The most effective apologies contained all six elements, according to Lewicki, but admitting fault, offering a fix, and giving an explanation seemed to be the most important combination.

As to why those three were most important, the authors think it's because they most directly address the original violation of trust while the others are more ephemeral.

Remember, though, this isn't a cheat sheet. If you're not genuinely sorry, it means nothing. And even if you hit the high-score best apology of all time, the other person doesn't have to accept it. And that's OK.

So how did our band do? Altogether, The Decemberists get 4 out of 6. They left out two elements, but nailed some of the big ones. So I'd definitely accept that apology.

If you need to apologize and are stumbling for words, remember this:

"I'm sorry, it was my fault. Here's what happened. I won't let it happen again, and here's how I can make this right. Forgive me?"

Hopefully that'll help patch up any bike-related mishaps in your life.

Family
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's