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Effects of Timing and Sincerity of an Apology on Satisfaction and Changes in Negative Feelings During Conflicts

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  • SUNY Buffalo Undergraduate Program at Singapore Institute of Management (SIM)

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Using attribution theory, this study examined the effects of apology timing, apology sincerity, and feeling understood on communication satisfaction and changes in negative emotions (e.g., anger and sadness) during conflict discussions. Sixty romantic couples engaged in conversations about recurring disagreements in their relationships. One partner from each couple apologized either earlier or later during the discussions. The findings showed that different variability existed between the timing of the apology and reports of communication satisfaction. Later apologies, rather than earlier apologies, given during conflict discussions that were completed in less than 10 minutes were associated with more communication satisfaction. Earlier apologies, rather than later apologies, given during conflict discussions that could have continued past 10 minutes were associated with more communication satisfaction. Additionally, reports of feeling understood and apology sincerity predicted communication satisfaction and apologies seen as more sincere were related to reports of less hard negative emotions such as anger, but were not related to reports of soft negative emotions, such as sadness. These findings have implications for the process of forgiveness and the mediation of disputes.
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... Because customers are generally reluctant to voice complaints (Davidow 2003;Stephens and Gwinner 1998), these studies have mostly examined customers who are uncertain about their future relationship with the employee. However, research on interpersonal relationships (Ford 2001;Frantz and Bennigson 2005;Hubbard et al. 2013) hints at the importance of soliciting customers' input before offering an apology in certain circumstances. According to Frantz and Bennigson (2005), victims may not be ready to accept an apology as part of conflict resolution until they voice their concerns and have them understood. ...
... Considering that such a responsive apology allows customers to express their voice first, customers are likely to perceive that the employee will resolve their specific concerns (Frantz and Bennigson 2005;Hubbard et al. 2013). In contrast, customers with a low interaction expectation will be more likely to be satisfied if the apology is offered before their complaints. ...
... Across two studies, we consistently find that in the high interaction expectation conditions, customer satisfaction improves with the presence of a responsive apology (i.e., listen-and-then-apologize), which implies that the employee will resolve customers' concerns without making the same failure again (Frantz and Bennigson 2005;Hubbard et al. 2013). In contrast, in the low interaction expectation conditions, we see an increase in customer satisfaction with the presence of a preemptive apology (i.e., apologize-and-then-listen), which signals that the employee is already aware of the problem, and will fix it soon, without waiting for the customers to express their concerns (Davidow 2003;Smith et al. 1999;Wirtz and Mattila 2004). ...
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... Additionally, the original assignment of items expressing ways of apologizing might not have been stringent: While Item 29 belongs to the NS scale, Item 40 ("Saying 'I'm sorry' when one realizes one was wrong") to the positive-submissive scale. In both scenarios, admitting and apologizing for (small) mistakes leads more likely to positive emotions at the receiver, for example, feeling less negative emotions such as anger (e.g., Ebesu Hubbard et al., 2013). Furthermore, this behavior, when meant sincerely, might even contribute to a deeper feeling of understanding each other (e.g., Ebesu Hubbard et al., 2013;Maio et al., 2008). ...
... In both scenarios, admitting and apologizing for (small) mistakes leads more likely to positive emotions at the receiver, for example, feeling less negative emotions such as anger (e.g., Ebesu Hubbard et al., 2013). Furthermore, this behavior, when meant sincerely, might even contribute to a deeper feeling of understanding each other (e.g., Ebesu Hubbard et al., 2013;Maio et al., 2008). This change in feelings and closeness might affect the judgment of the given scenario in a less negative way and might explain why the item does not show a strong loading on the NS scale. ...
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... Several studies also report that the sequential order of offering an apology, and having customers' concerns understood, matters to the customers (Frantz and Bennigson 2005;Huan 2021;Hubbard et al. 2013). They reveal that when customers are motivated to voice their concerns, it will be more desirable for the employee to apologize after, rather than before, having them voiced and heard. ...
... Additionally, our research extends on prior research on apology timing (Frantz and Bennigson 2005;Huang 2021;Hubbard et al. 2013;Min et al. 2020) by newly identifying an underlying cognitive process and a boundary condition for which listening before apologizing, rather than after, can improve customer satisfaction in different service failure settings. Unlike Frantz and Bennigson (2005) and Min et al. (2020), who focused on exploring how the sequential order of apologizing and listening influences customers' feelings, we go beyond the employee's apology timing and customers' affective response and directly test the critical role of the employee's verbal acknowledgment of customers' concerns and customers' cognitive (e.g., perceived preferential treatment) and behavioral response (e.g., intended tip size). ...
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A service employee’s active listening plays a crucial role in restoring a damaged customer relationship. However, previous studies reveal little about how listening to customer complaints operates in recovering a service failure. The purpose of this research is to explore when and why the employee’s active listening has a positive influence on customer response. We define active listening as (1) listening to customers’ concerns before apologizing and (2) verbally acknowledging them. Using scenario-based experiments, we demonstrate that active listening improves customer satisfaction, which in turn increases tip size (Study 1). Moreover, we find that active listening fosters customers’ perceptions of preferential treatment, which lead to greater customer satisfaction (Study 2). Yet, such positive effects of active listening diminish when customers are unexpectedly offered a complimentary service such as a room upgrade. The implications for academic researchers and marketing managers are discussed.
... Due to the exploratory nature of this study, and the limited prior research regarding apologies, we decided to code written apologies for several exploratory components that have not been thoroughly studied, but may be particularly relevant for apologies within a parent-child context. These components include: (1) physical affection (e.g., "Can I give you a hug?"); (2) timing (Ebesu Hubbard et al., 2013;Frantz & Bennigson, 2005; e.g., "I'll give you some space, and we can talk more when you're ready"); (3) term of endearment or love (e.g., "I love you, sweetie"); (4) expression of gratitude (You et al., 2020; e.g., "Thank you for putting your bike away"); (5) request for forgiveness (Lewicki et al., 2016; e.g., "Will you forgive me?"); (8) use of a specific emotion word (e.g., "I was feeling frustrated"); and (9) invalidating/minimizing comments (Molinsky, 2016; e.g., "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings"). We also collected information regarding the length of apology (in number of words). ...
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... In Bentley's (2018) as well as Coombs and Holladay's research (2012), the acceptability was used to examine the appropriateness of responses. Second, the stakeholder's perceived sincerity of the response is positively related to the appropriateness (e.g., Choi & Chung, 2013;Ebesu Hubbard et al., 2013;Lwin et al., 2017). Because an insincere message is deceptive in its character, the stakeholders may not trust what the organization said. ...
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... Empathy implies that employees of higher education institutions should show remorse and be sympathetic to students, whereas timing means that employees should immediately offer an apology as soon as a complaint is registered by the student (Roschk & Kaiser, 2013). Similarly, Ebesu Hubbard, Hendrickson, Fehrenbach and Sur (2013) have noted that the service recovery process is effective when the apology is sincere and timely. This might assist the service provider in effectively communicating the expression of regret and remorsefulness (if in the wrong). ...
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... On the contrary, if the employees' emotional states are prevailingly positive, they can develop cooperation, communication, and goodwill among one other (Jehn & Bendersky, 2003), which relatively may prevent the conflict formations. At this point it is revealed that if there is a perception of sincere apology among employees, this can diminish their undesirable affective reaction (Hubbard, Hendrickson, Fehrenbach, & Sur, 2013). And, if there is an empathic work atmosphere in organizations, they can understand both their and others' emotions successfully (Ayoko et al., 2008). ...
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