The Power Of Saying ʻSorryʼ

Negotiators and influencers use tactics in an attempt to alter the perceptions as to who has the most power. It's common to think of these tactics as being rather tough-minded manoeuvres pushing the other party into action.

Yet those skilled at influencing place equal weight on what may be regarded as 'nice' or empathic tactics. Those more cooperative actions aimed at developing common ground and shifting parties away from being positional towards joint problem solving.

Is 'Sorry' A Tactic?

Individuals working or living in close quarters invariably step on each other's toes from time to time. Situations can become emotional and conflictual. In order to keep relationships functioning and to influence feelings, we all know that saying 'sorry' helps considerably.


It’s because saying 'sorry' works (tactically) as it helps soften entrenched positions where those powerful, unstated personal needs and human emotional feelings are blocking willingness to move forward.

Be Wary Of The Consequences

Expressing remorse is a very human response. It's a reaction to our emotions. Yet in so doing you might be risking unforeseen consequences.

What if a corporate board director expressed regret for a manufacturing error causing a withdrawal of product? Could they be opening a doorway for civil action?

Is it possible to apologize and show sincere compassion and regret without it becoming an admission of fault?

At ENSI  we advise clients that the first step is always to analyze what are the real needs of each party. Then take care how you manage your actual words and actions. This will be critical to the overall outcome.

Commonly for negotiators and influencers the answer will lie in expressing sorrow for the event, but not for your involvement in the event.

Nevertheless, 'saying sorry' and 'admitting error' can be a breakthrough tactic particularly when emotions are running high.

Tips On Using ʻSorryʼ In Business

To successfully use 'sorry' we need to manage the atmospherics.

  • Choose the right time - the other party needs to be receptive.
  • Check the place - the venue and setting have a significant impact.
  • Look at the other party and use a personable and low tone of voice.
  • Make it clear that you are apologizing and what you are apologizing about 'I am very sorry that I upset you by saying/doing X and ...'
  • Be sincere - signal that it is significant for you.
  • Focus on the future - perhaps describe the positive benefits to both of accepting the apology.

Tips On Avoiding The Consequences Of Saying Sorry

Be wary that your words and conduct, or absence thereof, do not fuel perception that you are at fault or liable for an event and risk your legal position in a negotiation. Here are some tips:

  • Simply acknowledge the significance of the event ('It must be hard for you to have to deal with...')
  • State regret for the occurrence of the event ('I feel sad to tell you...')
  • Express your emotions without using the words 'sorry' or 'apologise' ('I feel heavy-hearted and distressed...')
  • Let the other person speak first - sometimes allowing them to vent their feelings is the only need that requires satisfying
  • Avoid defensiveness - listen carefully before responding
  • If in doubt seek independent legal advice

To discuss this article in more depth and explore developing your negotiation capabilities, please contact us via email or call +612 9299 9688.

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ENS International (ENSI) provides negotiation consulting and training services helping people and organizations think and act differently to achieve more. 

Negotiators gain the edge using proven ENSI influencing processes incorporating commercial psychology with a deep understanding of human behaviour. ENSI delivers through Consulting Services and In-House or Open Course training. 

With over 60 Practitioners working within 75 countries we have a depth of experience across a diverse range of sectors.

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