June 8, 2010

Say Your Sorries and Settle Already

 

By: Dr. Kevin Boully


Boully_Kevin_88_120 What can corporate defendants and their executives learn about effective dispute resolution from Major League Baseball’s most blogged-about umpire?
[1] 

 

 

Last week, Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce made the wrong call on the would-be final out in the ninth and final inning of the Detroit Tigers victory over the Cleveland Indians.  No big deal under most circumstances, but in this game the errant call killed what should have been a perfect game by the Tigers pitcher – one of the rarest feats in baseball history.  Yet,  it was how Joyce handled the mistake that immediately struck viewers like me and serves as a lesson to anyone accused of wrongdoing – or facing an uphill battle in litigation.   

 

 

Joyce immediately examined his behavior (via television replay), realized his error, and acted quickly and decisively.  He made a face-to-face apology to the team and players, and most importantly to the Tigers pitcher – from whom he’d stolen a piece of history.  He didn’t dodge reporters who wanted to talk, blog, tweet and text through the 24-hour news cycle about his great mistake. Joyce’s words were simple, clear and unambiguous.  He screwed up and he said so.  Refreshing in today’s climate of corporate double-talk and evasive public relations that leaves most of us feeling corporate wrongdoers are less than genuine when addressing those harmed by their conduct.  Perhaps the biggest lesson for corporations in hot water: the story was quickly in the past and Joyce was lauded for the way he handled the situation.   

 

 

Joyce’s actions arrive with new research that reinforces advice from our past blog on apology and reminds us that taking responsibility and expressing remorse for our actions not only helps heal wounds that lead to lawsuits but can facilitate settlements.  University of Illinois professor and researcher Jennifer Robbennolt says “the apology fulfills some of the goals that triggered the suit” and while litigation apologies can be complicated and are not fit for every case, “it appears apologies can be a viable strategy” for settlement.[2]    

 

Remember, the most powerful apology expresses four Rs:  Remorse, Responsibility, Repair and Reform. 

 

 

The Four R’s of Effective Apology [3]

 

Remorse 

We are deeply sorry for what happened to innocent victims in this case.

Responsibility

We have always strived to make the best and safest products possible, and we take full responsibility for the mistakes we made in this case. 

Repair

We understand there are consequences for our actions and are willing to make this situation right.

Reform

We have already changed our practices and implemented seven additional safety checks, and we intend to see that this never happens again. 

Any apology lacking one or more of these elements is less complete and often less transformational than a complete version. 

Saying you’re sorry is a simple human behavior that can heal wounds and reduce anger during litigation.  Recent data proves it can also be a critical dispute resolution behavior that’s proven to reduce plaintiffs’ settlement demands and facilitate resolution of lawsuits outside the courtroom. 


[1] See also http://jurylaw.typepad.com/ for the Deliberations blog discussing this issue.

[2] Retrieved June 4, 2010 from ScienceDaily

[3] See also http://www.persuasionstrategies.com/MeaCulpa_TJE1.pdf

 

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