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Saying 'I'm Sorry' Has Hidden Benefits

November 20, 2013
ABC News Radio

People can build trust in others by saying “I’m sorry,” no matter how superfluous the apology might be, a Harvard Business School research team says.

To test the theory, the researchers had a man approach strangers at a train station to ask if he could borrow their cellphone.  Half the time the man asked just that question and the other half he remarked, “I’m so sorry about the rain!  Can I borrow your cellphone?”

Turns out he had a success rate of 47 percent handing their phones over with the superfluous apology while just 9 percent let him borrow the phone when no apology was used.

The Harvard Team concluded that saying “I’m sorry…demonstrates empathetic concern for the victim, and increases the victim’s trust in the apologizer.”