While we've previously discussed the moments when you definitely do not need to apologize (but probably still do) both in the workplace and elsewhere, now it's time to address why and when saying sorry might actually work in your favor.
According to new research from Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania, leading with an apology for something that's out of your control is much more likely to lead to acts of trust. After four experiments, researchers also saw that people are more inclined to do a favor for someone who offers a superfluous sorry.
In one of these experiments, the scientists asked an actor (who wasn't aware of the study) to approach 65 strangers at a train station in the Northeast. Each time, he asked to borrow their phones. To half the group, he said, "I’m so sorry about the rain! Can I borrow your cell phone?" With the other half, he asked them directly, skipping the apology completely.
And, what happened? Forty-seven percent of the people who received the apology gave him their phones — which scientists interpreted as a representation of their trust — while only 9 percent of the second group gave up their devices.
"Even in the absence of culpability, individuals can increase trust by saying ‘I’m sorry' — even when they are merely ‘sorry’ about the rain," researchers wrote in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The unrequested, unnecessary apology works to build a sense of empathy and becomes an easy and effective way to open up the lines of communication. Researchers also noted, "By issuing a superfluous apology, the apologizer communicates that he has taken the victim's perspective, acknowledges adversity, and expresses regret."
So, it seems like a little apology can truly go a long way. And, if it doesn't work for you as it did in the study, all we can say is...we're sorry. (Fast Co.)