The Apology/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

Posted on August 30, 2016

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It is not difficult to understand how an apology can move parties from deadlocked positions to the road of Win-Win. What makes for a good apology? Here is the conclusion on one study: Edward Tomlinson of John Carroll University and Roy Lewicki of Ohio State University concluded that participants viewed apologies to be more sincere when they included ownership over the problem (e.g, “It was my fault”) than when the apologies blamed external factors (e.g. “I lost my job, so…”).

One of the classic examples of ownership of a problem was the apology of President Kennedy to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. JFK cited an ancient saying that “Victory has many fathers and defeat is an orphan.” No one likes to admit they were at fault, or wrong, but it is sometimes necessary. In point of fact, President Kennedy’s popularity rose after his apology. People like the realism and humility that is associated with a heartfelt apology. And as President Kennedy marveled, after his apology evoked an outpouring of support. “If I screw up again, I might be able to win the next election in a landslide.” But popularity is not the best reason for an apology. It is more the military maxim that governs: “If you broke it, you fix it.”

Mediate don’t litigate.

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