Research from Ohio State University has recently identified six elements of an effective apology. The elements are:
- Expression of regret
- Explanation of what went wrong
- Acknowledgment of responsibility
- Declaration of repentance
- Offer of repair
- Request for forgiveness
Of those six elements, two are particularly important to having your apology accepted. The most important is acknowledgement of responsibility, which involves saying that it was your fault and you did something you should not have done. The second most effective element is an offer of repair, committing yourself to taking actions to make things right.
When I read this article, it struck me that the two most essential elements to an effective apology are the backbone of restorative justice. In order to participate in restorative justice, an offender must take responsibility for his or her actions through telling the story of what happened and naming the impacts he or she sees. Following this acceptance of responsibility, the offender listens to the story from the perspective of the people most impacted and repeats back the harms, showing that he or she understands the full impact. Once all of the impacts are out in the open, together the offender, victim, and community members form a plan for what the offender can do to repair the harms and make things right. After all parties reach agreement, the offender follows through and completes the required repairs.
When the restorative justice process is examined in contrast to the traditional court system which encourages offenders to deny responsibility and prescribes punishments that so often do not relate to the reparation of harm, it is clear why restorative justice so often leads to genuine apology, forgiveness, and the reparation of relationships. Through creating a space where the essential elements of an effective apology are encouraged, restorative justice facilitates the healing of human relationships.