Saying ‘sorry’ doesn’t always make things better. Here’s when it’s best not to apologise
Saying sorry can worsen things if not done at the right time or in the wrong way. Your apology might seem insincere or make people feel worse because they have to forgive you before they are ready.sex and relationships Updated: Sep 09, 2017 11:21 IST
You may want to avoid saying sorry when making a social rejection, as according to a recent study, it could only worsen things. Lead author Dr Gili Freedman from Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, said that contrary to popular belief, apologies don’t soften the blow of rejection.
“Our research finds that despite their good intentions, people are going about it the wrong way. They often apologise, but that makes people feel worse that they have to forgive the rejector before they are ready,” Freedman added. There can be times when people cannot accept all invitations or wish to avoid a social encounter, but little is known about how they can protect the feelings of those being rejected.
Social norms dictate that we should forgive someone if they apologise, which puts the target of social rejection in a difficult position if they aren’t ready to do this or think the apology is insincere. With that in mind, Dr Freedman performed several different tests to assess how often apologies were included in a social rejection and how the recipients felt and responded to them.
They approached over a thousand people who were in town for various festivals. They found that 39% of people included an apology when asked to write a ‘good way of saying no’ to a social request, such as being able to meet up or to be roommates again. When asked how they would feel when put in this position themselves, those people shown a rejection containing an apology reported higher feelings of hurt.
Dr Freedman then carried out specially designed face-to-face rejection experiments to account for the fact that people don’t like to admit negative feelings, such as the pain of rejection. “We know that people often don’t want to admit that they have hurt feelings, so in some of the studies, we looked at how much people wanted to seek revenge,” explains Dr Freedman.
The findings indicated that those, who offered an apology when rejected from a set of group tasks, which included a taste test of hot sauce, exacted revenge by allocating more sauce to the person who had rejected them. The result appears in journal of Frontiers in Psychology.
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