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The Power of Apologies

By Mason Spirit contributor on April 1, 2010


Rick Warne

Apologizing for negative outcomes—a practice common even with children—may lead accounting auditors to receive more favorable verdicts in court, according to a study by researchers at George Mason University and Oklahoma State University.

Assistant accounting professors Rick Warne of Mason and Robert Cornell of Oklahoma State found that remedial tactics, such as apologizing or first-person justification, can result in lower frequencies of negligence verdicts in cases against auditors when compared with a control group that received no remedial tactics.

Research in psychology, management, and medicine concludes that remedial tactics are effective when expressed directly to injured parties. Cornell and Warne’s research expands on these prior findings by examining the effects remedial tactics have on jurors who are indirectly involved and cannot directly forgive the accused.

“We know victims often respond favorably to an apology, but our findings suggest that even unharmed jurors react in a similar manner,” says Cornell.

Approximately 30 states have some form of apology law that prevents an apology from being used against a defendant as evidence in court. According to the researchers, these laws encourage the use of apologies when disputes arise.

“Defense attorneys must consider several factors before having their client testify in court,” says Warne, “however, we believe that most innocent parties could benefit from utilizing the apology and justification strategies when legal conflicts arise.”

“Defense attorneys must consider several factors before having their client testify in court,” says Warne, “however, we believe that most innocent parties could benefit from utilizing the apology and justification strategies when legal conflicts arise.”

—Jennifer Edgerly


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