NOTES ON THE AGE OF APOLOGIES
The role of a public apology, and the decision to accept or reject it
Due to the media attention the audio recording generated, the university’s president, Deborah MacLatchy, apologized on behalf of the school. Rambukkana also wrote an open letter of apology to Shepherd, recognizing that he, as her mentor, should not have thrown her under the bus.
There was quite a bit of negative reaction to the apologies, some of which you can read here in response to a Jon Haidt tweet (@jonhaidt) praising Rambukkana’s open letter.
We’re seeing a lot of apologies these days…and a lot of apologies not being accepted. I wonder if all these apologies are being rejected in part because we conflate accepting the apology with acceptance of the act being apologized for. I personally think accepting an apology doesn’t mean you have forgiven the act. Rather, to me it means that the person apologizing may have learned from what has happened, and it is now a matter of watching to see if behavior changes going forward.
If we never accept an apology, are we allowing any room or motivation for anyone to change their mind? The apology is a first step toward improving a situation – not the conclusion – and if we’re overly critical and quick to dismiss apologies, we demotivate people from taking that first step toward growth.
I have also been noticing our tribal nature affecting whether an apology is accepted or rejected. Not surprisingly, we seem much more likely to accept apologies from people who are within our tribe, who we’re motivated to accept the apology from. I think we’re much more likely to dismiss apologies from people who we don’t consider to be in our tribe.
Watch out for motivated rejection (or acceptance) of apologies. I think this is a good time to step back and think, “If this apology came from somebody else, would I feel the same way about it?”