Apologizing too much can be a problem, but sometimes people hesitate to say “I’m sorry” because they’re afraid of being perceived as weak. Especially in a business environment, you want to be seen as strong. But there’s workplace benefit to an apology: it builds empathy and increases trust.
Photo by recoverling
Harvard Business School (HBS) conducted a study about how superfluous apologies are perceived. These are basically unnecessary apologies. HBS defined it as “expressions of regret for an undesirable circumstance for which the apologizer is clearly not responsible”.
You’d think a superfluous apology would be seen as weak and inauthentic, but researchers actually found the opposite:
Using multiple methodologies across four studies, we document that superfluous apologies increase benevolence-based and behavioural trust. The relationship between superfluous apologies and trust is mediated by perceptions of empathic concern. In a laboratory study with a behavioural measure of trust, individuals were more likely to pass money to confederate counterparts who issued a superfluous apology than to those who did not…Superfluous apologies represent a powerful and easy-to-use tool for social influence. Even in the absence of culpability, individuals can increase trust and liking by saying ”I’m sorry” — even if they are merely ”sorry” about the rain.
To me, the takeaway here isn’t to over-apologise, but to not be afraid of apologising in the first place. Chances are, it’s appreciated and it has some social benefit. To check out the full study, head to the link below.
I’m Sorry About the Rain! Superfluous Apologies Demonstrate Empathic Concern and Increase Trust [Harvard Business School via The Muse]