When Is the Best Time to Apologize?

 By Brad Bell

Imagine that you got into an argument with your best friend.  You
said some things you wish you had not.   You told your best friend
that he or she was lazy and did not like work.  Now you realize that
you must apologize.  The apology is the best way to resolve the
conflict.  Should you apologize right away, or should you wait until
your best friend finishes expressing his or her feelings?

Frantz and Bennigson (2005) investigated the influence of the timing of an apology.  The hypothesis was that later apologies would be more effective because the person would have the chance to be understood and heard.  In their first study, participants were asked to
describe a recent conflict with a person in which they had felt wronged, and the other person apologized.  Satisfaction with the
outcome of the conflict was found to be positively correlated with the timing of the apology.  In other words, later apologies were
associated with greater satisfaction with the conflict.  Moreover, the
findings were consistent with the idea that this relationship could be
explained by feeling heard and understood.  However, causal
conclusions cannot be made from these findings.  Other possible
explanations cannot be ruled out.

In their second study, participants were randomly assigned to read
one of three versions of a hypothetical conflict situation.  They read
either that a person provided an apology at the beginning of the
conversation, provided an apology later in the conversation, or
provided no apology.  The early apology came before the
information on voicing her concerns and being understood.  In
contrast, the later apology came after the information on voicing her
concerns and being understood.  The findings from the second study
suggest that a later apology is more effective than an early apology.
 These findings have important practical implications concerning
when to apologize.  When apologizing it may be best to wait until a
person has a chance to voice his or her concerns and feel
understood.  Before apologizing, it may be good to clearly state that
you understand what the person is feeling.


Frantz, C. M., & Bennigson, C. (2005).  Better late than early:
The influence of timing on apology effectiveness. Journal
of Experimental Social Psychology, 41
, 201-207