We’ve all seen it before. A corporate titan, politician, or celebrity who is clearly in the wrong balks at saying “I’m sorry.” Maybe you’ve even done it yourself. While this behavior can sometimes be explained by a desire to avoid potential legal pitfalls, a new study suggests that far more is at work. It turns out that withholding an apology offers the harm-doer psychological rewards.

In the study, Yale professor Tyler Okimoto (pictured) and colleagues at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, recruited university students to participate in role-playing exercises. In one, students were asked to imagine that a cashier accidentally gave them an extra $10 in change. The students were told to picture counting the money out and still choosing to keep it, making it obvious to both them and the cashier that they had acted deliberately. Later in the hypothetical, the cashier confronted the student and sought an apology.

All of the students were instructed to imagine that they returned the money. But they were then placed in situations that required them to either apologize or refuse to do so under various conditions. As the professors predicted, those who refused to apologize felt better about themselves, boosting their self-esteem. This happens for two reasons, says Okimoto. “People like to believe they’re true to themselves, and by not admitting a mistake they can maintain the belief that they act with integrity,” he says. “Refusing to apologize also helps people feel that they’re in control and powerful.”

Okimoto suggests some real-world implications for his work. “Managers might typically see an employee’s refusal to apologize as an inability to admit the mistake.” He notes that while that may very well be the case, the employee’s intractable stance may also signal a desire to maintain his or her self esteem. Should you choose to force the issue, you risk making the employee even more defensive — and eliciting an insincere mea culpa.

But what if the people you manage aren’t the problem? What if you’re the culprit? Okimoto suggests that managers strive to recognize when their own failure to yield is driven not by their true convictions, but by a desire to preserve their self-esteem and control. “An unwillingness to swallow one’s pride and admit error may result in inefficient, or even unethical, business practices,” he says. And we’ve seen how that plays out — from Wall Street to the Gulf of Mexico.

article courtesy of B-Net

One Response to “Why CEOs Refuse to Apologize”


  1. […] We’ve all seen it before. A corporate titan, politician, or celebrity who is clearly in the wrong balks at saying “I’m sorry.” Maybe you’ve even done it yourself. While this behavior can sometimes be explained by a desire to avoid potential legal pitfalls, a new study suggests that far more is at work. It turns out that withholding an apology offers the harm-doer psychological rewards. (read more) […]

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