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In mediation, there are frequent occasions where a party may feel genuine remorse and apologize for his or her actions. However, in the cynical world of litigation, everyone doubts when the other side acts remorseful. How can you tell when a person genuinely feels remorse? Canadian researchers think they have the answer.
Leanne ten Brinke and colleagues discovered that when people are faking remorse, they giveaway “tells.” Signs of fake remorse include:
More emotions in a shorter period
Emotional mood swings (the researchers term “emotional turbulence”)
Speaking with greater hesitation
The researchers analyzed nearly 300,000 frames of taped interviews to investigate the tells. They found that people who displayed false remorse displayed more happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, surprise, and contempt — than those who were genuinely sorry.
The researchers found that people who were genuinely remorseful did not often swing directly from positive to negative emotions, but went through neutral emotions first. In contrast, those who were deceiving the researchers made more frequent direct transitions between positive and negative emotions, with fewer displays of neutral emotions in between. In addition, during fake remorse, people hesitated more in their speech patterns.
By its own admission the study is limited in scope. However the discovery regarding emotional states being tells of remorse is fascinating and requires further observation before we can set it into reality.
ten Brinke L et al (2011). Crocodile tears: facial, verbal and body language behaviours associated with genuine and fabricated remorse. Law and Human Behavior; DOI 10.1007/s10979-011-9265-5
Many times in mediation, the question or issue arises as to whether a party is making an apology because it genuinely feels remorse or whether the party is simply saying it to gain some form of economic advantage. As you will see, those same apologies, when done wrong can backfire terribly.
This issue has been raised in two different forums in the world recently. First, the issue has come about with regards to Toyota’s apology to the world. Indeed, in Japan when parties express regret they are (by culture) required to bow deeply. Toyota’s C.E.O. has apologized for his company’s massive recall, but questions have risen whether his apology and bow were sufficient and genuine. See Los Angeles Times article, A Ritualistic Bow From Toyota Chief.
Some say that C.E.O. Toyoda’s bow was not deep enough and was simply a ritualistic act. Others also comment that a true apology would be used against Toyota in litigation. Do these issues sound familiar? They sure do to me. This is a common theme in mediation. Whether to apologize? How? And whether it is genuine?
Another theme common in mediation is the following scene: A person has committed a wrong several years ago. Perhaps the person apologized “formally” at the time. It was, however, unclear as to whether the apology at that time was genuine. Enter the mediation. Issues are being raised about the conduct several years ago and its ramifications. How does the repenting person act. Well, Mel Gibson gives us a great example of how not to act in that situation.
Here, Mel Gibson is asked about his anti-semitic remarks several years ago. At first he appears remorseful. But as you see in the video his conduct now is clearly not that. There are several non-verbal and in between the message signs. First, he states that he is the same person as he was then. Clearly he is not distancing himself from that terrible event. Second, he laughs at the question that he clearly understands in a nervous laugh when he asks for clarification. Third, he states he has gotten over this “but clearly you haven’t.”
Further, he then states that he has done the “necessary mea culpas” as if there is a certain amount of apologies that can be made and then all is good. This comment alone reflects his lack of remorse. One of the things about violating people’s trust and then giving an apology, you cannot simply act as if the apology is ritualistic. Take the same action and put it into other violations of trust. For example, “Honey, I know I cheated on you several years ago, but I have said my necessary apologies. You shouldn’t feel hurt today.” His comment appears to reflect his true belief that he is not in fact sorry for his actions and that the apologies were simply formalities required to move on and keep selling movies.
Mel’s next action is also telling. He picks up the cup of coffee and holds it in between himself and the camera as if to distance himself. (How many times in T.V. interviews for movie promotions do you see someone drinking coffee while on camera? Never). Then, he turns away, and raises his thumb in a “yeah, yeah, whatever,” manner.
Then, the piece de resistance is Mel’s comment at the end.
Mel Gibson appears to the classic example of lack of remorse being shown for his indiscretions. In mediation, many times a genuine apology can make the difference. However, take Mel Gibson as an example of what not to do.
By the way, here is another interview with Mel Gibson by another reporter. Does he appear remorseful to you?