Do You Owe Someone An Apology?

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February 1, 2016

*Sharing a blast from the past…

i-am-sorryI was traveling down the worm hole that is the internet, when I landed on a 2010 story in Psychology Today called The Science of Effective Apologies.  It caught my attention  for a couple reasons.  First, I hate to apologize.  I will do it and I think you should too, but I can’t think of a time when it really made me feel better.  Second, I’m intrigued by the science behind why people do, or don’t, apologize and the impact on the recipient.  All this reminded me that there are many situations in the workplace where you or a colleague may feel disrespected, under-valued or even outright wronged.  Have you received an apology?  Did it help?  If you were the person who hurt a colleague, did you apologize?

According to the author, Gary Winch, PhD., beyond the three components most of us expect in an apology (expression of regret, actually saying the words “I’m sorry”, and requesting the person’s forgiveness), “Studies have found that in addition to the three basic ingredients, three additional apology components play an important role in determining whether an apology will be effective: 

  1. Expressions of empathy
  2. Offers of compensation
  3. Acknowledgments that certain rules or social norms were violated

These components were found to be most effective when they were matched to the characteristics of the person to whom the apology was being offered.”

I don’t know about you, but all that sounds like a lot of thought and work need to go into a sincere and effective apology.  Don’t get me wrong, I do believe you should do it.  I wonder though, is it the thought that apologies can be complex that keeps people away from giving them?  As a believer that it’s all about making the recipient feel better, I still wonder if some colleagues do not do this because they perceive it as them giving away their power.

We all have known colleagues or leaders who refuse to apologize, right?  According to a 2013 study in the European Journal of of Social Psychology“Results showed that the act of refusing to apologize resulted in greater self-esteem than not refusing to apologize. Moreover, apology refusal also resulted in increased feelings of power/control and value integrity, both of which mediated the effect of refusal on self-esteem. “

So, are leaders less likely to apologize?  

Whether they are or not isn’t as important as the fact that if you are in a leadership role, it is healthier for your team to apologize when you are wrong.  It’s a balance, of course, of knowing when it will be needed and meaningful.  None the less, it’s something to consider if you’re a leader who wants to humanize yourself with your team in order to build and reinforce trust.

What do you think?  Do you apologize?  Has someone at work apologized to you?  Share in the comments…

2 Comments

  • An apology is no simple act. It is not fun to admit you’re wrong or made a mistake and then ask for forgiveness; and a lot of thought needs to go into how to make things right.

    When I apologize it’s a sincere effort to repair and strengthen a relationship at work or at home. What I have to be mindful of, is the use of the words “I’m sorry.” These are often the precursor words when expressing an apology. However the meaning of these words is different depending on their intent.

    At home I say, “I’m sorry” but not as an apology for anything I did wrong or could control, but more as an act the help the other person feel better – a show of sympathy. At work my apology does not include the words “I’m sorry” instead I use the phrase “I apologize” and I say it only when I truly mean it – when I am truly sorry.

  • Totally agree it is appropriate for leaders to apologize. Making leaders…making myself…more human with the team I work with is essential.

    Great post.

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.

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