Following a violation, negotiators become less cooperative, less trusting, more upset, and more likely to retaliate against the perceived perpetrator. An apology can reverse the damage.
For some, obtaining an apology is the penultimate goal of a negotiation. This was true after an American surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in April 2001. With the Chinese pilot presumed dead and the American crew held captive in China, Chinese President Jiang Zemin called for a formal apology from the United States. On April 11, the U.S. ambassador to China ended the diplomatic standoff by stating in a letter that the United States was very sorry about the death of the Chinese pilot and apologized for landing in China without permission. The carefully crafted statement succeeded in persuading the Chinese government to release the American crew members.
Another dramatic example of the importance of apologies in negotiation comes from a lawsuit filed against the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. Eleven plaintiffs claimed to have been sexually abused as altar boys by a priest, Rudolph Kos, from 1981 to 1992. A civil jury awarded the plaintiffs $119.6 million in 1997; after church officials said the sum would bankrupt the diocese, the amount was reduced to $31.3 million in attorney negotiations. Kos was also sentenced to life in prison. Even after this agreement, however, the plaintiffs demanded an apology. They got one from Bishop Charles Grahmann: “I…want to, with very profound and deep compassion, renew my apology to the victims and their families for the immense suffering that has been a part of their lives.”
In summary, apologies can help the successful negotiator to:
- Improve understanding
- Increase trust
- Improve future outcomes
When you download the New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation you will learn how wise negotiators extract unexpected value using an indirect approach to conflict management.