Half an Apology is Worse than No Apology at All

Can half an apology really be worse than no apology at all?

Apparently, common sense and intuition are not sufficient guideposts when crafting the perfect apology. Common sense dictates, for example, that any apology is better than none at all. Research suggests otherwise.

apology icons

In an INC. Magazine article, Allison Stein Wellner reviews some of the more fascinating insights gained from research on business apologies; insights that challenge the commonly held myth that something is better than nothing.

Wellner cites research by Jennifer K. Robbennolt (University Illinois) on the reactions of 145 professionals to situations involving some form of apology, typically in the context of considering a legal settlement after an accident.

According to Robbennolt's research, apologies that follow most if not all of the ingredients outlined here were much more likely to lead to settlements (73 percent of the cases), but only 35 percent of respondents were willing to settle when only a partial apology was received. The most fascinating (and relevant) result from Robbenolt's study is that 52 percent of respondents were willing to settle without having received any apology—that is no apology at all.

The point here is that more of an apology is better than less, but not enough can sometimes be worse. Obviously delivering the perfectly balanced apology is NOT that straightforward. The key, as Wellner points out, is for the wronged person to believe that the apologizer “"has truly considered what he or she has done…. Call it the suffering effect."”

Timing is also crucial"waiting too long can backfire, but showing that you've had a chance to reflect on your errors and feel guilty about them will likely make your apology fall on more receptive ears".

Sincerity is another important ingredient"If you really don't intend to change your behavior, you're better off skipping the apology. Save your credibility—and your apology—for a time when you really need it. And make sure you mean it."

These are not insignificant qualifiers—, they represent additional tidbits of advice that when combined with other suggestions and research offered on this site (such as this one, on half an apology being better than no apology at all) will get you closer to crafting a more perfect apology in business.

Learn more about Business Apologies.