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 lately 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 components 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 anthem, by the way, it’s about apologizing to a friend after letting their motorcycle, Madeleine, get stolen. You can listen to it here .)

1. First, an “expression of regret.” In other terms, 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 components 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 anthem 😛 TAGEND

“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 absence of motorcycles 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 entailed her no damage/ 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 being responsible: “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 😛 TAGEND

“I was watching it for you/ ‘Til you came back in the autumn./ 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 defect, 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. I f they wanted full marks, they should have explained how they were going to invest in some super-duper motorcycle locks or a personal motorcycle 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 fixing the problem .

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

“Where has she run?/ Well, I gamble she’s on the bottom of a Frenchtown pond.”

This is the point where they should have sing 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 demonstrates anything .)

Or, you know, getting them a new motorcycle. 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 writer, 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 😛 TAGEND

“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 components, according to Lewicki, but acknowledging defect, offering a fixing, 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 relating to 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 reach 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 had recognized that apology.

If you need to apologize and are stumbling for terms, 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 their own lives.

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