I’ve had a lot of chances to practice apologizing, because I’ve made so many mistakes in my life.
What’s been so interesting to me is that when I’ve made mistakes at work and publicly expressed remorse, I have found people are full of grace, compassion and forgiveness. I’ve concluded that to err is human and to apologize is human, too. To sweep a wrong under the rug or to issue an inauthentic half-sorry is artificial—and people get angry over that kind of refusal to acknowledge error.
There really is no downside to apology—in fact, there are upsides.
The setup involved “hiring” coffee shop customers to perform a simple task for $5, and then (apparently accidentally) overpaying them. Some subjects were subjected to rude behavior by the experimenter, who appeared to take an unimportant cell phone call in the middle of explaining the task. The subjects who experienced the rude behavior were much more likely to pocket the overpayment.
Ariely then tweaked the experiment by repeating it but having the experimenter add a simple apology, stating, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have taken that call.” The apology completely offset the effects of the rude behavior. The subjects who experienced the rude behavior but then got the apology were just as likely to return the overpayment as the control group.
The neuromarketing takeaway is that apologies really do work. Of course, “sorry” may not completely negate the effects of major failures or even repeated small ones. But Ariely’s work does show that for one aggravating incident, an apology is the perfect remedy. So, don’t let your miscue slide – suck it up, and apologize!
If you’ve messed up, tell your boss or colleagues or donors that you are truly sorry. They might think more highly of you—even though you made a mistake.