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How to Make an Apology Work

By Whitney Patterson | December 20, 2010 | 8 comments

A new study offers an important tip to anyone looking for forgiveness.

It’s not always as easy as simply saying you’re sorry. According to a new study published in the journal Organizational and Human Decision Process, a one-size-fits-all apology is not the most effective route to conflict resolution.

The study involved 171 undergraduate students who were presented with a hypothetical scenario: While working on a group project for their co-ed fraternity, a fictional friend named Pat had accidentally harmed their computer by using a disk with a virus on it; afterward, Pat apologized for the mishap.

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The participants read 10 different apologies from Pat. In some versions of the apology, Pat offered compensation for the damaged computer. In others, he offered empathy for the participants’ distress. And in others, Pat emphasized how sorry he was for letting the group down. Participants then rated how likely they were to forgive Pat after reading each apology.

The researchers found that the success of each type of apology depended on the way that the participant saw him- or herself in relation to other people—what researchers call “self-construal,” which was measured in a survey the participants filled out before reading about Pat.

Among participants who had a strong sense of autonomy and were concerned with entitlements and rights—an “independent self-construal”—the offer of compensation was most effective, since those people view their relationships in terms of the costs and benefits to themselves.

For participants who put a high premium on their close relationships, such as those with friends and family—a “relational self-construal”—the apology expressing empathy was most effective.

And participants who said they value group identity and social rules and norms—a “collective self-construal”—responded best to the apology where Pat acknowledged that he had violated group rules and norms by saying he had “let the whole group down” and “ failed in [his] duties to [their] fraternity and the campus community.”

In a separate part of the study, the researchers asked participants to rate good apologies by indicating how much they agreed with statements like “In general, a good apology should include an offer to compensate me for what happened.” Again, they found that the effectiveness of the apology type depended on the concerns and values of the participant.

The results suggest that for an apology to elicit forgiveness and reconciliation, you should be sensitive to the particular characteristics and needs of the person you offended. If you don’t know the person well enough to determine which type of apology to make, the researchers suggest offering “detailed apologies with multiple components” since these are “more likely to touch upon what is important to the victim.”

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About The Author

Whitney Patterson is a Greater Good editorial assistant.

  

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in py point ..
it’s enough to feel sorry .. and make the other feel that you really do

asalah | 9:43 pm, September 24, 2011 | Link

 

Making apologies at work are the toughest thing to do. Great advice!

Consignment Shopper | 1:55 pm, October 6, 2011 | Link

 

In this post, there is a member who get inspired to re-design the google plus symbol. Well, that`s looked better that google plus has recently as common. It`s simple yet easy to remember.

Sunlighten Sauna Reviews | 12:18 am, November 22, 2011 | Link

 

it always difficult to say sorry especially for the one
who are in big anger. giving time for cooling down is
better.

ari | 11:44 pm, January 2, 2012 | Link

 

“The results suggest that for an apology to elicit forgiveness and reconciliation, you should be sensitive to the particular characteristics and needs of the person you offended. If you don’t know the person well enough to determine which type of apology to make, the researchers suggest offering “detailed apologies with multiple components” since these are “more likely to touch upon what is important to the victim.”” Very Interesting…

Pictures of Jesus | 3:22 pm, January 4, 2012 | Link

 

“Among participants who had a strong sense of autonomy and were concerned with entitlements and rights—an “independent self-construal”—the offer of compensation was most effective, since those people view their relationships in terms of the costs and benefits to themselves.” I like this.

Easytether | 3:25 pm, January 4, 2012 | Link

 

This post is so true…i know lots of people that just don’t know how to apologies. It seems that after they made their apology, the victim feels even worst…

IVF

Joe | 6:44 am, January 15, 2012 | Link

 

Take responsibility for your actions. Above all else, people want to see you own your mistakes. Although we’re only at step one, this is a crucial moment because it sets the tone and creates the momentum for your entire sincere apology. When you’re on the other end receiving a sincere apology, is this not the crux for you, the instant of satisfaction, when that person becomes accountable and admits to precisely what he did wrong? As an expression of repentance, of true regret or remorse, this step matters more than all the rest when you make a sincere apology.

You can best achieve this repentance by using a simple, straightforward sentence that uses two magic words—I’m sorry. After you’ve uttered those humbling words, address what you did in concise terms. The following examples show accountability through the use of the word “I” and the lack of the word “but”:

  “I’m sorry I blew off our meeting.”
  “I’m sorry I said those things about your mother.”

That should be it. Do not add the feelings you think you incited in the other person (“I’m sorry you misunderstood me” or “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt”); doing so shifts blame away from you, which is the opposite of taking responsibility for your actions.

Sue | 7:26 am, April 21, 2012 | Link

 
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