Most of us have had the experience of delivering an apology that fell on deaf ears. When apologies fail to achieve their aims, poor delivery is usually to blame. In particular, if the recipient thinks your apology is less than sincere, she is unlikely to forgive you.
This was the case in union-management negotiations at Philippines-based Golden Donut, Inc. When the management’s negotiating team showed up 35 minutes late to the talks, the union’s team stormed out in protest. In an attempt to resume the process, the management team sent the union negotiators a letter that included an apology. Perceiving the apology to be insufficient, the union refused to reconvene and ultimately went on strike.
When it comes time to make an apology, how can you convey your sincerity? By delivering the apology in person, expressing it with emotion, and conveying a sense of personal responsibility and remorse. In one study, Edward Tomlinson of John Carroll University and Roy Lewicki of Ohio State University found that participants viewed apologies to be more sincere when they included internal attributions for the harm (for example, “It was my fault”) than when the apologies included external attributions (“Market conditions were poor”).
The ability to make a sincere apology also significantly rests on your credibility. In particular, a history of unfulfilled promises were ineffective as the individual who committed a trust violation had issued a deceptive message earlier in the experiment. Therefore, don’t give assurances or make promises during a negotiation unless you’re certain you can follow through on them.
Negotiators typically try to advance their case by making persuasive arguments, listening closely to the other side, and inventing creative options. Sometimes, however, your most effective move can be a straightforward, heartfelt admission that you made a mistake.
Related Article: How to Say I’m Sorry
Related Article: Best Negotiation Case Studies
Originally posted on September 7, 2012.