Communication Insight – Empathy, Apology and Forgiveness

Takaku’s research offers important insights on how apologies “work.” Mutual empathy is key. While the offer of an apology may be the result of, and an expression of, the offender’s empathy with the offended party, forgiveness requires empathy from the offended to the offender. Empathy must be experienced by, and communicated by, both parties to the conflict, not simply one or the other. In other words, to be effective in resolving conflict, apology and forgiveness are best viewed as interactive processes, not simply one-sided speech events.

Takaku’s research demonstrates that an offended party has the power to shift the nature of a conflict interaction by reflecting on his or her own “imperfect nature,” developing empathy for the offender, and thus being open to the process of apology and forgiveness. Some people can undertake such reflection on their own; others might need to be prompted toward reflection. However, Takaku also urged caution: care must be taken regarding who prompts the offended party to reflect on his or her own imperfections. For example, if the offending party makes the prompt, it would likely generate resistance on the part of the offended party and actually escalate the conflict. 


Dorothy J. Della Noce