We’re Sorry: Not All Apologies Are Apologies - Miller-McCune
Politicians take note: Research shows the fine line between claiming regret and taking responsibility.
Variations on “I’m sorry” are playing an increasingly prominent part in our public and private discourse, with figures as diverse as Charlie Sheen and the CEO of BP making widely circulated statements of remorse. In an era of truth commissions, demands for redress of historical grievances, and humiliating revelations of personal indiscretions, apologizing has evolved into a nuanced ritual, one that has attracted the interest of researchers from a variety of disciplines. Some studies provide insights into the effectiveness of apologies and explore the fine line between expressing regret and taking responsibility.
The non-apology apology
There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but Zohar Kampf tells us there are 14 ways to offer a non-apology apology. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem assistant professor of communications delineated them for a 2008 article in the Journal of Pragmatics. To determine “how public figures realize creative forms of apologetic speech in order to minimize their responsibility for misdeeds,” Kampf examined 354 conditional apologies made by Israeli public figures, organizations, or institutions between 1997 and 2004, breaking them down into specific categories and sub-categories.
One type of pseudo-apology downplays the transgressor’s degree of responsibility. Kampf identifies five variations on this theme, noting that a wrongdoer can: 1) apologize while undermining the claim that he offended someone; 2) apologize for the outcome but not for the act; 3) apologize for the style but not for the essence; 4) apologize for a specific component of the offense but not for the entire occurrence; and 5) apologize while using syntactic and lexical means to downgrade his responsibility.” The latter category includes referring to an offensive action as a “mistake,” which effectively minimizes guilt.