According to the authors of a study in Current Psychology, people can feel pressured into accepting apologies they find insufficient. Not only that, but a bad apology can make the recipient even angrier, say Loyola University Chicago researchers. You need to convince the aggrieved that you’re better than your past actions suggest you are, says Dr Steven Scher, a professor of psychology at Eastern Illinois University. To prepare yourself for that, first think about what you most want the apology to accomplish.

Avoid punishment
Can you be sued for your error?
yes
Don’t apologise until you talk to a lawyer. Sometimes an apology can be used in court as an admission of guilt.

no
Are you sorry? yes Pre-empt punishment by offering your own penalty: compensation or a gift. People more willingly accept apologies that come with something tangible.

no
Don’t fake anguish – just own up to the error. If the other person senses that you’re not being sincere, he or she will be more likely to want to punish you, Scher says.

Restore your reputation
Did you just goof up, or was what you did intentional? Have you already been busted?

no
Don’t come out and apologise. People are much less likely to condone a breach of integrity, even if you fess up, research shows. Just focus on righting the wrong rather than unburdening your conscience.

yes
Couch the error in terms of your lack of competence; people are more likely to forgive you for that. Then express deep embarrassment.

accidental
Couch the error in terms of your lack of competence; people are more likely to forgive you for that. Then express deep embarrassment.

Repair a relationship
Where’d you mess up?

work
Take responsibility, and set conditions you can meet – stricter oversight from the boss, say, or specific deadlines on projects. Studies show that this can help restore trust. home Did the mistake happen just now?

yes
Don’t apologise while she’s ticked. People are less likely to forgive while they’re angry.

no
Have her calmly explain why she’s upset. Then think it over. According to researchers at Amherst and Williams colleges, she’ll be more willing to believe you’re sorry if she knows you’ve reflected on your mistake and her pain.

Now apologise
don’t say
“I’m sorry you feel that way.” When you express pity, forgiveness doesn’t follow.

say
“I regret what happened.” “I know I was wrong.” “I won’t do it again.” “I’ll try to make it up to you.”

and
Your tone and demeanour need to show that you mean it, Scher says. Here’s a hint: talk about how guilty or ashamed you feel. That’s the best way to express remorse, researchers have found.

Apology accepted!