Research Suggests Using this Word can Make an Apology Less Effective

Research has suggested that, in a very specific situation, using a certain word when apologising can make the person you're interacting with feel even worse.

I’d like you to think about the last time you had to reject someone socially – for example, tell them that you couldn’t go to a dinner they were hosting or attend a party you had been invited to.

Did you say the word “sorry”?

If you did you may well have made things worse for the other person as, according to research from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire that came out last year, it can actually increase social pain.

As published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology lead author Gili Freedman outlines the reasons why: “Contrary to popular belief, apologies don’t soften the blow of rejections,” she said.

“Most people have had the experience of wanting to minimize the hurt of the person they are rejecting. But how exactly do you do that? Our research finds that despite their good intentions, people are going about it the wrong way. They often apologize, but that makes people feel worse and that they have to forgive the rejector before they are ready.”

So, next time you have to apologise in this specific scenario (social rejection) you might want to try to not say the very word that might feel most appropriate – “sorry”.

I hope that is of use and I’ll be back in a week’s time with some more meetology – exploring the fascinating psychology powering exceptional people skills.

See you next week, until then take care,


Jonathan Bradshaw
The Meetology® Lab


Gili Freedman, Erin M. Burgoon, Jason D. Ferrell, James W. Pennebaker, Jennifer S. Beer. When Saying Sorry May Not Help: The Impact of Apologies on Social Rejections. Frontiers in Psychology, 2017; 8




About the Author:

Jonathan Bradshaw presents and trains internationally on the fascinating psychology powering exceptional interpersonal communication. He is Founder of the Meetology® Lab and leads the company’s team of behavioral psychologists in collating and sharing cutting-edge research on exceptional people skills. As an experienced and engaging keynote speaker Jon has presented at conferences and business events in over 30 countries and is an award-winning columnist and blogger. Learn more about him speaking at your next event via or connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.