How to Effectively Apologize to Customers 


Offering a sincere apology is extremely hard. However, a Stanford psychologist thinks he’s found a way of facilitating this process.

Science is able to confirm two contradictory truths. First, sincere apologies are considered extremely important when it comes to creating a long-lasting relationship. However, very few people actually like and do it.

It’s not difficult to understand the first part. Actually, it’s common-knowledge. Holding a grudge or having resentments will only prove detrimental to you and your company.

On the other hand, the second truth boils down to the degree to which people are actually motivated to maintain their positive self-image.

When a person apologizes for something, he or she perceives himself in an unflattering light while admitting you’re not as great a person as you hoped you’d be. It comes to no surprise that people head for the hills when they have to do it. Combine the two truths and you’ll see how half-apologies and even defensive explaining tend to replace the sincere “I’m sorry.”

But is there a way of getting out of this conundrum, a solution that allows for people’s self-protective impulsive yet still keeping them wholeheartedly admitting errors and soothing hurt feelings?

Well, according to Stanford psychologist Karina Schumann, there is a way of doing this, and she has the research to back her up. She found that the trick is to engage in a small self-affirmation before you actually make the apology.

The study has formed two groups of 49 participants. One group was asked to think of a value that was important to them and they felt they possessed. The other halves were the control group. Afterwards, both groups were asked to recall a period in time when they refused (forgot) to apologize despite having committed a wrong and write it down, upon further reflection, they would say now to the people they hurt.

The ones engaged in self-affirmation wrote better apologies that have less dodging of responsibility, blaming and even hedging.

Schumann explained on the Society for Personality and Social Psychology blog that she “aimed to discover a method that would increase apology comprehensiveness while also reducing the use of defensive strategies. Given the fact that she considered that feelings of threat are perceived as a barrier to the willingness of the transgressor to offer comprehensive apologies, she examined if self-affirmation could act as a buffer against this threat and also promote more effective apologies.”

In layman’s terms, reminding yourself your good qualities and the accomplishments you’re proud of before facing the people you’ve wrong will probably help you get the courage to offer a true apologize.

The next time you offend someone, take a moment to remind yourself of what actually matters in your life, then try and offer a nondefensive and heartfelt apology. While it may prove challenging, it might feel better than you’d imagine,” Schumann added.

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