Use Apologies Judiciously To Negotiate Successfully

When negotiating, there are times when apologies will hurt, more than help your position. In general, when apologies are offered sincerely and perceived as such, they tend to soften an opponent and endear you to him. Nevertheless, before offering apologies in a negotiation remember, an opposing negotiator can use your apology to place you into an unsellable or diminished position.

Ponder the following situation and reflect upon how and when you should apologize during your negotiations.

Consider the scenario of the CEO of British Petroleum (BP) testifying before the U.S. Congress, as to how and why the Gulf oil spill occurred; the oil spill has devastated the region ecologically and economically. BP had to escrow $20 Billion dollars for the mishap. After BP’s culpability had been established, a US Congressman apologized to the CEO of BP, for the ‘shake down’ that occurred of BP by the ‘White House’. The Congressman not only diluted the efforts to keep the ‘fire to the feet’ of BP with his apology, he also jeopardized his party’s positioning, related to how the general population (voting public) viewed his party’s stance on the oil spill.

You might ask who in their right mind would make such an apology, in such a situation. The answer, someone that did not ‘think’, or think he was negotiating. In reality, you’re always negotiating.

When considering the right time to offer an apology during a negotiation, consider the following 5 thoughts …

  1. Apologies can lead to requests for more apologies.
  2. Apologies can make the apologizer appear to be guilty of that for which he’s apologizing. Such actions can bring suspension upon future actions in the negotiation.
  3. Apologies can weaken a negotiator’s future positioning, as the result of being brought up at a strategic time during the negotiation.
  4. Apologies have their place. As an efficient negotiator, you should use apologies judiciously, so as not to have them appear trite, superficial, or without contemplation.
  5. Apologies can lead to a cornucopia of unknown and unseen problems in the future negotiations.

Even though the CEO of BP apologized for the catastrophe and stated that he was ‘deeply sorry’ for the Gulf oil spill, those receiving his message did so with apprehension. Instead of having his apology received as being genuine, it was perceived by most as being contrived, due to prior statements he’d made. In prior statements, he seemed to lack empathy and a true understanding of the enormity of the situation. Thus, when delivering his apology before the US Congress, he was already positioned to be viewed disdainfully.

When you consider the timing of your apologies during a negotiation, take into consideration your prior actions and proceed based on how your next apology might be received. If you can adopt an action other than apologizing that conveys your state of sorrow do so. You’ll save yourself the possible agony of being out-positioned in the negotiation … and everything will be right with the world.

The Negotiation Tips Are …

  • As children and young adults, our parents instilled in us the righteousness of apologizing for our transgressions. Nevertheless, before making an apology, one should consider the priority of what one seeks to accomplish from the negotiation and the ramifications of the apology.
  • Before trying to turn a situation from ‘ashy to classy’ by apologizing, consider the positioning of such actions and how it might situate you in the negotiation.
  • Don’t let your short term situation compromise your long term goals by an errant apology. If you’d like to display regret for casting a wayward word or act, consider doing so by making a concession that won’t come back to haunt you during the negotiation.
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