THE POWER OF AN APOLOGY

By Lindy Korn, Esq.

When a parent raises a child, he/she will tell the youngster at some point during childhood, to “say you are sorry” for some act of not sharing or being impolite. This occurrence may be repeated throughout the child rearing process. Query—at what stage do adults learn that apologizing is NOT the proper response and may indicate blame?

In a legal setting, parties often fail to make an apology out of their fear of adverse economic consequences, failing to consider the benefits of an apology. Ideally, an Apology should be rooted in responsibility and remorse, based on ethical considerations. By apologizing, parties assume responsibility for their mistakes rather than denying it. Our current system of litigation is based upon parties denying responsibility, thus forcing the opposing party to prove one’s fault.

Getting away from Blame and fault based strategy; there may be both an economic and business reason to consider a safe process (negotiation, mediation, conciliation), to offer an apology. Most business owners want to retain control over any legal controversy, and the resolution process, having a direct impact on the outcome. This can occur in a mediation setting, and may, limit legal expenses.

When an organization expresses its willingness to accept responsibility for its errors by apologizing, it sends a message to employees that it is okay to err, and to be open about the information. Apology’s issued in this manner can also enlist employees contribution to the error reduction process. Prevention is often learned through errors, but only if there is a willingness to share and includes the possibility of learning.

Cultures throughout the world use apology. Apology’s importance in Japan is well established. New Zealand has been at the forefront in developing criminal victim-offender reconciliation programs in which apologies are often central. In China, a former lawyer with a long interest in psychology, decided that people need some help apologizing “as a way of relieving pressure, reducing barriers and the many negative feelings between people today”, and founded a company called “The Tianjin Apology and Gift Center. Thus, international trends can be instructive in the recognition of how others are resolving disputes.

Apologies extend to many areas of life; law, psychology, economics, culture, religion, ethics, and human relationships. Forgiveness and the direct assumption of responsibility may create a broader linkage amongst these disciplines, resulting in a different approach to dispute resolution.

During the High Holidays, thoughts of Apology, link our religious observances and our human relationships and disputes, which may become a continuous process as we become a more responsible society.