Apology not accepted

Apologies have been in the news over the last few years. Strangely the apologies of bankers in the light of the GFC and more latterly after excessive interest rate hikes have left many feeling hollow. What about apologies in your private life though? Do those personal apologies make you feel better about having been wronged? New research sought an answer to this question.

Even if we don’t say it out loud, most of us at some stage think, “You owe me an apology!” The question is, what is the real value of that apology? Will it actually make you feel any better about the wrong-doing, about the other person, or about yourself?

To test how people think about apologies, researchers had volunteers sit at a computer and then gave them money to the value of ten euros. They could either keep the money or give it to a partner with whom they communicated via computer. The partner was actually a part of the experiment. If the volunteers gave the ten euros to the partner, the volunteers were told that the money had been tripled and that the partner had received 30 euros. The partner could then choose how much money to give back, but the partner only gave five euros back.

Some of the volunteers were given an apology for this cheap and offensive offer while others were asked to imagine that they had been given an apology.

The interesting finding was that people who imagined an apology valued it more than people who actually received an apology.

This suggests that we are not very good at predicting what is needed to resolve a conflict. Although people may want an apology, and may rate it as highly valuable in imagination, the apology itself is less satisfying than predicted.

The researchers have concluded that although an apology may be a first step in reconciling a conflict, more is required to make the wronged person feel better. Apologies are probably more impressive to third-party observers but what do people who feel wronged really need if an apology does not satisfy?

The researchers say that people need to see a change in behaviour from the wrong-doer suggesting that they will do things differently in the future. This might be true but what if the person who has wronged you shows no sign or willingness to change? What do you do then? Do you carry around a sense of righteous indignation for the rest of your life? Perhaps the answer lies in that old saying that the best revenge is a life well lived. Rather than waiting for an apology why not forgive and get on with living the life that makes you happy.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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