A recent study published in the Scientific American reveals that “I’m sorry” just isn’t good enough. Subjects were tested by being shorted money and those who imagined getting an apology were happier than those who were apologized to.
Additionally, those who only envisioned apologies proved to have higher trust levels of trust in subsequent testing, revealing that people who soothed themselves were happier and had higher trust levels than those relying on others to soothe them.
“The expectations for an apology to make us feel better and even forget about the bad things that have happened are overestimated,” says study co-author David De Cremer of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. “In light of fraud cases, the financial crisis, the moral escalation that people seem to witness in contemporary society, there is a cry for apologies, such that we seem to live in an apology culture.”
The study did find a benefit to apologies, however- restoring social order (think Bill Clinton’s apology).
Apologies are a part of the fabric of call centers, political speeches, gas station attendants, and part of the script of business and often unnecessary (“I’m sorry you were put on hold”).
How to use this study to your advantage:
The bottom line is that when a client calls you or your assistant, you may feel good about yourself because you sucked up your pride and said, “okay, sorry,” but if there is no sincerity or empathy behind it, your client will most certainly lack happiness and trust, according to this study.
I learned from Benn years ago the mantra, “tell me what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T do,” and it comes to mind today- next time you’re tasked with apologizing, you should not only mean it, but tell your client/caller/whatever what you CAN do, not just a scripted or insincere apology.