Ask The Experts

Why your boss may never apologise

And what you can do instead

During one of my recent training programs on emotional intelligence, there was a major outburst from a participant (let’s name him Jason) who felt wronged by his manager.

Jason’s manager had publicly attacked his behavior and performance. This led him to feel humiliated, ashamed and as a result, demotivated and unwilling to perform at work.

Jason angrily expressed how after years of service, his boss’ treatment was shocking and wrong, and that he deserved an apology for it.

The apology never came.

Why bosses don’t apologise

In a survey by Forum Corporation, 51 percent of managers believe apologising makes them appear incompetent, 18 percent believe it makes them look weak, and 18 percent shrug it off, saying that apologising is unnecessary.

According to Tyler Okimoto, lead author of the journal Refusing to apologise can have many psychological benefits, people refuse to apologise because it makes them feel more empowered. In fact, not apologising can sometimes makes one feel better than apologising.

Power and control translates to greater feelings of self worth and boosted feelings of integrity. People who refuse to apologise belief that apologising makes them feel threatened, as the other will gain victory.

During one of my coaching sessions, a hardcore non-apologist confessed that apologising would mean that she was not perfect.

Apologising threatened to topple that fragile sense of omnipotence, face imperfections, accept vulnerability and face that she was a human who errs; it meant having to be vulnerable to her mistakes and having to be willing to make things right.

Unfortunately, however, the overall rewards of not apologising do not justify the costs of lack of trust and engagement.

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The power of an apology

The majority of research indicates that genuine apologies serve multiple positive purposes and outcomes in corporations and even in courtrooms.

A genuine apology restores dignity and power to the other, supports both parties in regaining trust, allows feelings of care and understanding and supports both parties’ desire of actually wanting to let go of the pain experienced. They also convert a desire for revenge into willingness to forgive and forget.

A high-performing work culture cultivates the spirit of genuine apologising as a tool to learn from mistakes, grow from negative experiences, and forge deeper relationships and a healthier working environment.

Michael McCullough, professor of psychology and lead researcher, said that the main reason why apologies work so well is based on principles of evolution: the apologies make the wrong-doer seem more valuable as a relationship partner, and also help the victim feel less at risk of getting hurt again.

What can you do when you do not get an apology?

Whilst there are many ways to handle a situation where you have been wronged, here are the few which I think would be the most empowering.

1) Objective self-reflection: Take a step back, remove all defenses and objectively ask yourself what you may have done to contribute to the situation. Whilst this may not be a question you enjoy asking or searching an answer for, it would allow your perceptions to become more objective.

2) Learn and grow: Difficult people and difficult circumstances tend to come with a special gift called life learning lessons. Ask yourself what lessons you’ve learnt from the situation to make you a better person and to equip yourself to overcome similar situations.

3) Acceptance and human strategy: Knowing yourself and knowing (and accepting) this individual, it is critical to derive a “human strategy” or modus operandi of working with people who are more harsh. Ask yourself “How best should I deal with someone like this that is still aligned to my values and goals?”

4) Alter and heighten: There is always more than one way of looking at a situation. Explore the situation from different perspectives and ask yourself this: “How can I look at this situation to make myself feel better?”

5) Constructive communication: It is always a good option to have the courage to communicate constructively. Whilst our natural response is to fight or flight, it is important to what I have coined flow, the art of communicating or acting constructively. This situation can be resolved with a “thank you for the feedback” followed by a request for the person to speak in a more respectful tone going forward. It can be concluded with learning how both can work more effectively going forward and a “thank you for listening” statement.

6)Abandon but Honour: In some cases, it’s ok to walk out of such a working relationship for the sake of better working environments. Even if you are unable to agree, it is important to leave the relationship acknowledging and honouring that everyone has their way of doing things.

To conclude, all situations can make us feel disempowered or empowered and it is always for the better to choose an empowering journey at work and in life. Remember, “to err is human, to forgive is divine”.

Hetal Doshi – Suhana Daswani is a professionally qualified organisational psychologist, certified professional coach, and the founder of O Psych Sdn Bhd, with an expertise in work performance, team dynamics and emotional intelligence. To get in touch with her, drop an email to


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