Asking forgiveness is not always as easy as saying ‘I’m sorry’

Tales of corporate scandal and political misdeeds have made spectacular headlines in recent years — just the mention of Enron or Bill Clinton conjure up memories of those offenses. But on a day-to-day basis most people don’t deal with such large-scale scandals. Instead, they are confronted with relatively innocuous mistakes — the kinds of mistakes that eventually break down trust and possibly even derail a career. There’s a reason that a simple apology doesn’t always re-establish the trust that colleagues once enjoyed, according to new work by Kurt Dirks, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis. People’s reactions to apologies vary widely depending on the nature of the transgression.

Removing the shadow of suspicion

StewartCan Martha Stewart regain the trust of her customers or could Enron’s former chief Ken Lay get a new job under the clouds of suspicion left in the wake of their legal problems? It depends upon the match between how they respond to the allegations and the extent to which the alleged offense is perceived to involve their integrity or their competence, according to a recent study by Washington University in St. Louis professor Kurt T. Dirks and three colleagues.