How do you make effective apologies? In a brief video talk, Jennifer Thomas talks about her research for five categories of effective apologies, offering concrete apology language advice. 

Most of us are wrong, at least sometimes – both in our personal and professional lives. We often react by making an apology and trying to move on. Apologies are often awkward and uncomfortable — but when they are sincere, heartfelt and effective, they can give closure and often strengthen a relationship. But what makes an effective apology?  Certainly not the wishy-washy “mistakes were made” public statements that we so often hear from public figures.

Clinical psychologist Jennifer Thomas has studied apologies. She teamed up with Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages. They embarked on a research project, asking asked more than 45,000 people …

  • what do you most want to hear when people apologize
  • when people apologize to you, what do you expect them to say or do

The findings of their research have been put into a book, When Sorry Isn’t Enough. In a 17-minute TED talk, Thomas talks about their research, which developed five categories of apologies. She explains that each one is like a separate key on the ring. One key does not work on every door. An apology that might work for one person may not work for the next.

5 categories or languages of apology

  • Expressing regret – 40% of respondents wanted apologies to show that you understand their feelings
  • Accepting responsibility – 37% of respondents want apologists to say “I was wrong”
  • Making amends – 10% of respondents think that an apology should include a plan for what can be done to make this right
  • Revising the plan – 10% of respondents would want to hear what will be different going forward
  • Requesting forgiveness – 3% of respondents think that apologists should ask for forgiveness

Thomas recommends that public apologies often use all five. Her talk offers tip for how to make effective apologies, whether they are personal, work-related or in the public arena.


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