By Steven G. Mehta

Every week or so you see a public figure make an apology about some indiscretion.  I sometimes feel that we have a wheel of fortune style game show called Say Sorry or Lose a Fortune.  Many people wonder, though, how valid are the apologies.  Do they really mean it?

I came across an article that was quite informative on this issue written by a CBS news affiliate.  Here is a brief excerpt:

Mark McGwire is the latest to step in front of the camera and say, “I’m sorry.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did the same this week. We see public apologies all the time, but are often skeptical of them. So how sorry are these people?

“Public apologies are designed to serve very different purposes than private apologies,” said Marti Hope Gonzalez, a University of Minnesota psychology professor, currently researching how apologies play a role in conflict resolution.

“They’re enacting a little performance to gain the esteem of the public, not necessarily the person they’ve harmed,” Gonzalez said.

It’s a tricky situation for public figures, who may or may not truly be sorry, but nevertheless face a public outcry for an apology.

“When people do bad things we like to hold them accountable,” Gonzalez said.

Oddly, our forgiveness of the public figure may be more about our own need to avoid cognitive dissonance, she said. That’s when one belief contradicts with another.

To read the rest, click here.

There is another interesting take on this issue in Psychology Today

It is important, however, to distinguish between public and private apologies.  The question begs:  what is the apology in a mediation?  The answer is, it depends.  It can be a mix of both a public and private.  Many times in mediation, the apology is calculated by a party to create a change in the other side’s position, similar to a public apology.  On the other hand, I have seen many apologies given in mediation that are intended solely and exclusively to express regret and remorse over an event.

Some of the factors that you may need to look at in considering the genuineness of the apology are:

  • The timing
  • The amount of remorse or regret
  • Whether there is anything tied to the apology
  • Who makes the apology — the lawyer or the party
  • Is there an impasse in the negotiations
  • The actions associated with the apology

There are many more,  what are your thoughts or suggestions.  Or do you disagree?