Managing a pharmacy that dispenses nearly 1500 scripts a day has its ups and downs. One of the biggest downs is handling patient complaints. They’re inevitable. If there is one thing I’ve learned from handling these complaints, working in retail settings since the age of 15 and most importantly from being married, simply saying “I’m sorry” just ain’t going to cut it.

A decent apology has to hit on multiple aspects of your wrongdoing. According to a recent study, there are in fact six components you must hit if you want to craft the perfect apology, some of which are more important than others.

The study, led by Roy Lewicki of The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, and published in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, suggests that the most effective apologies contain these six elements:

  1. Expression of regret
  2. Explanation of what went wrong
  3. Acknowledgment of responsibility
  4. Declaration of repentance
  5. Offer of repair
  6. Request for forgiveness

None of it is too surprising, but the study suggests that some of these elements are more important than others. According to Lewicki, the most important element of an effective apology is acknowledging your responsibility. If it’s your fault, or your employees — still your fault, fess up. The second most important element, says Lewicki, is your offer of repair. If you offer to fix things, and explain how, your apology will go much further. The least effective element? The request for forgiveness, but seriously who the hell asks for that? Especially in a business setting. “Oh I fucked up, please forgive me” see how far that gets you.

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A big piece of this equation in the management world is empowering your employees to handle apologies without your intervention. I’ve worked especially hard to fill my employees tool belt with options when it comes to offers of repair, the ability to override a prescription price or courier a patients med to their home are things my employees can offer without my intervention and that freedom empowers them to more readily take on the entire apology process themselves.

For success in business and relationships being able to deliver a timely and comprehensive apology is one of the harder things to do, but also one of the most important. Buck up and let science guide the way.

An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies | Negotiation and Conflict Management Research via Ohio State University