But is he really? IMAGE: Getty Images. Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. How good are you at contrition? As good as you are at, say, passing the buck or managing up? Knowing how to apologize is an art. It’s inevitable, then, that scientists thought they’d try to define it. Researchers at Ohio State University came up with six elements that you should include to ensure that your apology is satisfying.
To the person you’ve wronged, you understand.
1. Expression of Regret.
This is something that trips up Donald Trump so often. He never apologizes, he says. So expressions of regret are, for him, but signs of weakness. The researchers, though, claim this is an important step. You have to at least pretend that you’re sorry.
2. Explanation Of What Went Wrong.
Naturally, this would an entail an understanding of what went wrong. Which some find very hard to grasp. In essence, if you’ve hurt someone’s feelings by tossing them under a passenger-filled vehicle — symbolically, I mean — nothing went wrong at all. All you’re doing is trying to make the person you scythed feel a touch better about themselves.
3. Acknowledgment Of Responsibility.
I’m familiar with this one. It’s often referred to by its more modern form: You have to own it. Ownership, though, isn’t necessarily onerous. You can tell someone that you feel responsible, but again that’s to make them feel better. Because you’ve behaved appallingly, might they be of a mind not to believe a word you say? The researchers, however, claim that this is the most important step of all.
4. Declaration Of Repentance.
Perhaps you need a scroll with you in order to present your declaration in written form. Wait, your lawyer will never allow that. This is where the “I am so, so sorry” comes in, perhaps. Wait, didn’t that already come in the regret section?
5. Offer Of Repair.
This, the researchers say, is the second most important element. Here is where you offer to give the person you tossed beneath the bus half of the raise you got as a result of tossing them beneath the bus. What could be more enticing? What could be more just? What could be more unlikely? The point about some slights — perhaps even many slights — is that they’re impossible to repair. The thought, however, is both charming and bracing. “Hey, have my Ferrari for the weekend. The one I got thanks to the work I made you do and then didn’t give you a bonus for it.”
Seriously? Having gone through five phases of highly questionable maneuvering, you now have the gall to ask for what you really, really want — for the person you wronged to make you feel better? “That’s the one you can leave out if you have to,” Professor Roy Lewicki said in Ohio State’s press release. You don’t say, professor. Is there anything more vacuous that someone who has, as some Brits say, done you up like a kipper asking for you to forgive them? Sorry, but that one’s truly unforgivable.
All these elements might sound scientifically satisfying. At heart, the only apology that works is the one that’s truly sincere. And how many are? The hurt party has to judge not merely the performance of the hurter, but then monitor their subsequent behavior. The first place to look is into the apologizer’s eyes. Look very carefully indeed.