Five Common Non-Apologies You Shouldn’t Fall For and Why Men Rarely Apologize

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

This Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth Bernstein was published a while back and I think it deserves a second look.

“I’m Very, Very, Very Sorry…Really? We Apologize More to Strangers Than to Family, and Why Women Ask for Forgiveness More Than Men.”

According to new research from Canadian psychologists, people apologize about four times a week. But, on average, they offer up these apologies much more often to strangers (22% of the time) than to romantic partners (11%) or family members (7%). The only folks we apologize to more? Friends (46%).

In the article, Bernstein shows one sincere or heartfelt apology and these five common non-apologies:

  1. The Strategic Apology
  2. The Defensive Apology
  3. The Contingent Apology
  4. The Too-Late Apology
  5. The Bully Apology

Illustrations by Serge Bloch

Two small studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, published by the journal Psychological Science, show men are just as willing as women to apologize if they think they’ve done something wrong. Men just have a different idea of what defines “something wrong.”

In the first study, 66 men and women kept daily diaries and recorded each time they caused or felt an offense. They also noted whether an apology was issued. The outcome: Women were offended more often, and they offered more apologies for their own actions. Yet men were just as likely as women to apologize if they believed they’d done something wrong.A Canadian Engineer's Iron Ring, Stainless Ste...

In the second study, 120 subjects imagined committing offenses, from being rude to a friend to inconveniencing someone they live with. The men said they would apologize less frequently. The researchers concluded the men had a higher threshold for what they found offensive. “We don’t think that women are too sensitive or that men are insensitive,” says Karina Schumann, one of the study’s authors. “We just know that women are more sensitive.”
The second finding lines up with my own observations about apologies. As I travel and speak with groups about love languages and apology languages, I hear one question over an over from women. They ask, “Why won’t my male boss (or husband) ever apologize? He acts like apologizing will cost him money and he just won’t do it.” In short, women have a lower threshold for offering apologies. This gender difference causes both frustration and hurt feelings between the sexes.


Your Turn:

Have you run into any of the apologies shown in the cartoon above?  What about other non-apologies?


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