The value of a true apology in mediation can be different from a true apology in everyday life. With our everyday life, we generally see one person apologizing to the other by simply saying three words, “I am sorry.” However, the same does not go for apologies in mediation. In her “Women in Negotiation” seminar at Pepperdine University, Professor Stephanie Bell pointed out that apologies in mediation must be complete and genuine. If an apology is not both complete and genuine, the result is actually worse than if no apology was made at all.
The five essential elements of a complete and genuine apology, according to Maimonides are:
- Verbal Acknowledgement. This is actually saying the words “I am sorry.” This is expression of your regret.
- Acceptance of Responsibility. This acceptance must come without any excuses. An example would be saying, “I harmed you and that was wrong.”
- Offer of Restitution. This would be done by offering options to correct the wrong you have committed. For example, “I am going to make this right by paying you back.”
- Genuine Repentance. This would be saying that you will not commit the same wrong again. For example, “I will not do that again to you or anyone else.”
- Request for Forgiveness. Lastly, you must be genuinely requesting forgiveness.
In civil lawsuits, it is usually very challenging and rare to get a complete and genuine apology. While clients may not be willing to apologize, attorneys and mediators should provide assistance in resolving the conflict through an apology. This is especially true in divorce cases where there are a lot of misunderstandings between the two partners. However, it is important to note that an apology is offered by the attorney or mediator, not imposed. A complete and genuine apology can only come from a person who is willing to acknowledge their mistakes and truly wants forgiveness.
American jurisprudence often frames apologies in a negative light. Since apologizing is often associated with admitting culpability, many people think apologies are not the answer to disputes. This is not true. Three African-American teenagers were accused of shoplifting in an Eddie Bauer store in the late 1990s. The three boys were detained and the case flared up into a million dollar lawsuit. A father of one of the boys, Alonzo Jackson, said, “An apology would have sufficed…If they had apologized from the start or given some response, the lawsuit wouldn’t happen. It feels like they don’t care.” This is only one example of the power of an apology in a civil lawsuit. An apology can be equally as powerful in mediation, but only if it is true, genuine, and follows the five elements listed above. While the five elements provided above should result in an effective apology, your demeanor and tone should also represent genuine repentance.