by Bea Larsen

Larsen is a Senior Mediator at the Center for the Resolution of Disputes. She is the Co-Founder of Beyond Civility.bea2

A friend has said or done something without thinking and hurt your feelings. You gather the gumption to tell them so and their response is: I’m sorry you see it that way.

Feel better? Trust restored? Not likely.

A simple: I’m really sorry might have cleared the air. But sometimes even that is not enough.

A politician, a celebrity or a talk show host places foot squarely in mouth and indicts an ethnic group or gender with evil or just foolish intent, and when once again sober or contrite, with great apparent sincerity apologizes by saying: If my words resulted in discomfort or pain, I’m very sorry. Responsibility for the incident is thereby shifted away from the speaker and to the listener who is presumed to be overly sensitive. Not an apology at all.

But need even a serious misstep be the end of a relationship, a negotiation or even a political career?

Probably not. For an effective apology, the speaker might start by acknowledging that what he or she has said or done was wrong. Name it. And follow that with sincere praise for the willingness of the listener to assert their feelings or provide the evidence in support of their objection.

Behavioral scientists suggest that such a genuine apology will evoke the power of reciprocity, that the listener will mimic such a sincere response. The stage is then set for a further conversation.

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