No, the answer isn't "bring ice cream" (but it's a good guess).
Researchers from Ohio State University believe that have identified the individual components that make up an effective apology - and help you avoid a night on the sofa.
Two studies - one of 333 adults, another of 422 undergraduate students - asked participants to read a scenario in which they were the manager of an accounting department that was hiring a new employee. At a previous job, the potential employee had filed an incorrect tax. When confronted about the issue, the job candidate apologised with a statement that contained a number of different 'apology components'.
Six of these components were identified to be vital to making sure your apology had impact - with some requiring more weight than others.
Grab a pen, you'll want to take notes...
Express of regret
Obvious really, but all good apologies need to include a strong element of expressing regret - acknowledging that something has gone wrong.
Explain what went wrong
Explaining what happened helps you be totally sure that you're actually apologising for the right thing - it's no good if you're sorry for a totally different matter.
Acknowledgment of responsibility
This is it - the biggie.
"Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility. Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake," said Roy Lewicki, lead author of the study.
It might suck, but your apology will be no good without an acknowledgement that it was your bad.
Declaration of repentance
You know. Say it and mean it.
Make an offer of repair
The second most important aspect of an apology - if the context allows - is to offer a way of making amends.
"One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap," said Lewicki. "But by saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong,’ you’re committing to take action to undo the damage."
Request for forgiveness
This was the "least effective" element of apology that the researcher's studied - it can help to include it, but it won't hurt to leave it out.
In fact, if things are still being thrown at your head, it's almost certainly best to skip this step.