An apology, as an expression of remorse, can be an effective response from a transgressor to obtain forgiveness from a victim. Yet, to be effective, the victim should not construe the transgressor’s actions in a cynical way. Because low-power people tend to interpret the actions of high-power people in a cynical way, we argue that an apology (versus no apology) from high-power transgressors should be relatively ineffective in increasing forgiveness from low-power victims. We find support for this moderated mediation model in a critical incidents study (Study 1), a forced recall study (Study 2) among employees from various organizations and a controlled laboratory experiment among business students (Study 3). These studies reveal the limited value of expressions of remorse by high-power people in promoting forgiveness.

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Keywords apology, cynicism, forgiveness, power, remorse
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Series ERIM Top-Core Articles
Journal Human Relations
Zheng, X, van Dijke, M.H, Leunissen, J.M, Giurge, L.M, & de Cremer, D. (2016). When saying sorry may not help: Transgressor power moderates the effect of an apology on forgiveness in the workplace. Human Relations, 69(6), 1387–1418. doi:10.1177/0018726715611236