Difficult Negotiation Going Nowhere? Consider an Apology

How negotiators can bridge divides at the bargaining table with an apology

By PON Staffon / Dispute Resolution

In negotiation, if you’ve ever offended a fellow negotiator with words or actions, you know how hard it can be to make amends.

In past issues of Negotiation Briefings (February 2009, June 2010), we have described how effective a simple apology can be in bringing parties back together and restoring trust.

Discover how to improve your dispute resolution skills in this free report, Dispute Resolution: Negotiate Strong Relationships at Work and at Home, from Harvard Law School.

Research by Tulane University Law School professor Elizabeth A. Nowicki suggests that apologies can increase the odds of settlement, reduce the cost of a dispute, and repair relationships (see also, What Constitutes an Apology?).

As an illustration of the power of apologies, consider what happened in 2010 when former Florida governor Charlie Crist’s Senate campaign used the band Talking Heads’ song “Road to Nowhere” in an online video ad without permission (see also, What Can An Apology Do? and When is an Apology Most Effective?).

The band’s former frontman, David Byrne, slapped Crist with a $1 million lawsuit.

The two sides reached a settlement before the case went to trial.

The financial terms were not disclosed, but one aspect of the deal was designed for public consumption. Crist posted a video on YouTube in which he delivered a personal apology to Byrne for using the song without permission.

In the video, Crist says, “The use of David Byrne’s song and his voice in my campaign advertisement without his permission was wrong and should not have occurred.”

While negotiating the deal in Tampa, Crist and Byrne were spotted hanging out like “old friends,” according to the Miami Herald. “He’s a wonderful guy,” Crist told the Herald, speaking of Byrne. “We had a good interaction …and a nice settlement.”

Though we don’t know for sure, it is possible Byrne’s novel request for a public apology lessened his financial demands on Crist during settlement talks.

Byrne released a statement saying that he felt “very manly” after challenging the unauthorized use of copyrighted material, which he hoped to make “a less common option or, better yet, an option that is never taken in the future.”

Related Articles:

Dispute Resolution in China – Apple Apologizes for Warranty Policies: In the April 2013, Apple CEO Timothy D. Cook made the unusual move of apologizing to customers in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for Apple’s warranty policy and promised to make amends according to a report published in the New York Times. On March 15, 2013, International Consumers’ Day in China, the largest state-run television network slammed Apple for giving iPhone purchasers in the PRC a one-year warranty, less than the two years required under current Chinese law. It also criticized the company for charging users about $90 to repair faulty covers on iPhones.

Conflict Resolution – When Forgiveness Seems Elusive: From the Roman Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, victims of abuse and violence have received apologies from perpetrators who either caused or allowed their suffering. But sometimes those who have been harmed are not always willing or able to forgive. This article discusses forgiving others and the ability to do so in the context of negotiation.

Why Your Lawyer Could Be Wrong About Apologies: Apologizing and admissions of guilt with regard to negotiations.

International Negotiation Skills: Before Apologizing, Consider the Culture

Discover how to improve your dispute resolution skills in this free report, Dispute Resolution: Negotiate Strong Relationships at Work and at Home, from Harvard Law School.

Adapted from “Stuck on the road to nowhere? Consider an apology,” first published in the August 2011 issue of Negotiation.