Tag Archives: Apology

April 28, 2016

When Apologizing, You Got a Lot of ‘Splaining To Do

By Dr. Kevin Boully:

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Donald Trump. Does not. Apologize. Even after a raft of behavior that would oblige many public figures to launch a multistage public apology campaign, Mr. Trump stands pat. Pundits and media members call for apologies after comments on a variety of subjects. Many criticize their absence as the clamor goes unanswered. Yet, we cannot deny the rebel appeal in rejecting a cultural norm, especially the now-normalized – researched, categorized, and prescribed – behavior of public apology. While rebellion is part of the appeal, some argue apology weakens a political position, and Mr. Trump is not alone. Comedian Tina Fey recently declared, “There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that.” Alas, could this be the one and only thing that Donald Trump and Tina Fey share in common?

More seriously, have Americans’ expectations for apology become insufferable? Are demands for apologetic and corrective behavior insatiable? Does genuine apology still have a purpose, particularly in legal disputes? In this post I share two ways to use new research on effective apology in today’s culture so tired of meaningless apology by addressing the known, the new, and the what do you do.

 The Known

Our previous work on complete and effective apology and the communication research that informs its application in litigation, articulated four critical pieces of effective apology in litigation – The Four Rs. Past and recent research supports the conclusion that each of these four components is a key piece of an effective apology. 

  • Remorse. We are deeply sorry for the harm to the Plaintiffs 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.
  • 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.

The New

Brand new research sheds fresh light on the topic. A recent study (Lewicki, Polin & Lount, 2016) led by researchers at Ohio State University, summarized on Psyblog and Upworthy, considered six components of an apology and asked people to rate the components and combinations that were most effective. The results suggest the addition of two components described below with the researchers concluding that Remorse, Responsibility and Explanation are the three most important components while Requesting Forgiveness is the least critical.

  • Explanation. We had a comprehensive design, testing, and manufacturing protocol and there was a failure in our process. We installed on some vehicles a device that allowed our vehicles to pass EPA tests yet exceed EPA regulations during normal driving conditions. This was a grave mistake.
  • Request Forgiveness. We understand we have to earn back your trust and we ask for your forgiveness as we make our best efforts to regain the loyalty of so many.

The What Do You Do

So what does the research tell us about communicating apology in litigation? Two things.

(1) You Got a Lot of ‘Splaining To Do

Explanation is a critical addition as not only one of the six components that comprised the most effective apologies but one of the three most critical components to any apology. It is not an excuse (which undermines the apology) but an articulation of what happened and why. It matters in litigation because it is this step above all others that allows an opportunity for candor and authenticity that can break through the expectations of a judge, juror, arbitrator or mediator that your apology is just like all the others. Why?

(2) Derive Authenticity From Narrative Specificity

The Explanation step affords an opportunity to demonstrate your genuine feelings through a case-specific articulation of what happened that dovetails directly with your overall case position. This is storytelling (nonfiction, of course) that should not only support your overall position but, within the bounds of reasonable evidence, should also communicate your authentic values that provide your judge, jury, or arbitrator a sense of what makes your case not only persuasive but also redeeming.

So how about the six steps in action, illustrating the power and importance of the explanation:

I’m sorry. America’s apology culture went too far, and we all have some responsibility. It was so important to manage public impressions and protect the image of who we are that we diluted the very thing we were trying to protect. We made apology inauthentic. We won’t let it happen again and in fact, we have fixed it because today apology is unnecessary, improper, a sign of weakness. Please forgive us the last 15 years, America. Please forgive us.


Other Posts on Apology: 


Lewicki, R. J., Polin, B., & Lount, R. B. (2016). An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research9(2), 177-196.

Photo credit: Lucy Gray, Flickr Creative Commons

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March 3, 2011

The Key to the Defendant Apology: Say What You Mean, and Mean What You Say

By: Dr. Kevin Boully –

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Google “public apology” and watch the results pile up.  Within the last 24 hours a famous clothing designer, a city councilman, a Boston nightclub and countless others have issued apologies for their varied transgressions.  We’ve covered this territory in previous posts.  We’ve even laid out a pretty simple description of what constitutes a complete apology that recipients and third parties (and jurors!) are likely to perceive as sincere. So why are we talking about apology again? Is it truly pie-in-the-sky to expect jurors to accept Defendant apologies?

Two recent studies shed light on the vicious cycle of apology and increasing skepticism on the part of the jury-eligible public.  One study from Psychological Science examined reactions to betrayals of trust by asking some of the betrayed to evaluate an imagined apology and others to evaluate actual apologies for the betrayal.  Researchers found that people who imagined an apology were more satisfied than those who actually received them.  A recent post from Scientific American highlights the finding that our expectations of apology may indeed be pie-in-the-sky.  Continue reading

November 7, 2010

Make Sure Jurors Understand That You “Get It”

By: Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm


In the wake of November 2nd’s Congressional Mid-Term elections, and another change in the party in charge at the House — widely read as a referendum on President Obama — the focus of punditry has turned to the question of whether the President “get’s it,” or not.   As President Obama, again, acknowledged America’s frustration over a sluggish economy, one commentator after another has raised that question.   In addition to making good political theatre for news junkies, there is also a litigation connection.  We know that clients aren’t always perfect, and when a lawsuit is brought about by one bad outcome or another, the defendant is often in the position of acknowledging the tragedy of the situation, including potentially their own mistakes as well, while still defending themselves on liability and damages.  That is a stance that could lead jurors to ask, “Does the defendant really ‘get it’ in this case?” with the ‘it’ being an appreciation for the the seriousness of the events, or an understanding that makes unnecessary any potential ‘lesson’ from the jury.

When one or more elements of liability are uncontested or obvious, then an apology is often called for.  But when that isn’t the case, then there is potentially some middle-ground between defensive denial and abject apology.  Showing the jury that you ‘get it’ may be that middle ground. Continue reading

June 21, 2010

Take It From Rep. Joe Barton: Don’t Be A ‘Friend Of The Devil’

by: Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm

Ken_107 tight Here is a litigation lesson from the world of politics.  The Vice President, along with many other Americans, described it as ‘incredibly insensitive, outrageous, and astounding,’ but last Thursday, in the U.S. House of Representatives, Texas Congressman Joe Barton was facing BP CEO:

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday.  I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown — in this case a $20 billion shakedown.  … I’m not speaking for anybody else, but I apologize.”

Hours later, Representative Barton was taking back that statement in order to deal with the ensuing uproar from both Democratic and Republican circles.  

I apologize for using the term ‘shakedown’ with regard to yesterday’s actions at the White House in my opening statement this morning, and I retract my apology to BP.

What we see here is an unsuccessful attempt by Rep. Barton to reframe the issues.  On the 59th day of the continuing Deep Horizon oil spill, and two days after President Obama’s oval office speech asking BP to set up a $20 billion dollar fund in order to deal with the consequences of the oil spill, the Congressman seemed to sense a chance to focus the public’s attention on something other than the flowing oil, suffering wildlife, and spoiled beaches.  The President’s demand was unprecedented, and on the heels of an unpopular health care reform law and in the run up to a climate bill being successfully framed as an “energy tax,” the public might have seemed primed to accept Barton’s characterization of the fund request as yet another example of an outrageous power grab by the Democratic President.  Continue reading

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