The cost and benefit of an apology

Does saying “I’m sorry” make a difference? Absolutely.

A recent article at Knowledge @ Wharton Today explains that offering an apology has both costs and benefits.

Don’t apologize and others might see you as more powerful, explains Maurice Schweitzer, professor of operations and information management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. However, apologizing is an important step to rebuilding relationships.

I’d argue that without strong relationships, you aren’t truly powerful.

Apologizing also has real payoffs. When healthcare providers apologize for mistakes, the number of malpractice lawsuits and the amount of payouts decrease, Arthur Caplan, director of Penn’s Center for Bioethics, explains in an article that Schweitzer discusses.

But the way you apologize makes a difference. A casual “Sorry!” said in passing doesn’t cut it. As Schweitzer notes, an effective apology must be sincere and substantial, meaning the person offering the apology also must pay a penance.

Too often executives botch it by offering the non-apology apology. They say, in effect, “I’m sorry if this harmed you, but I’m not going to do anything about it.”

What’s the most meaningful apology you have received?

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