Others have discovered this "ploy" - as the bean-counters might call it - is particularly effective if in fact it demontrates a genuine sense of accountability on the part of the organization that presents it.
Economists have found that companies who simply say sorry to angry customers fare better than those that offer financial compensation. The ploy works even though the recipient of the apology seldom gets it from the person who made it necessary in the first place.
The study was carried out by the Nottingham School of Economics' Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics. Academics set out to show whether customers who have been let down continue to do business after being offered an apology.
They discovered people are more than twice as likely to forgive a company that says sorry than one that just offers them money.
Health care practitioners are particularly concerned; malpractice insurance premiums in some medical specialties have led to a decline in the number of obstetricians, for example.
In order to navigate the question of the admission of responsibility and the subsequent expression of an apology, medical ethicists and jurists have studied cases and have tested scenarios.
Like this one? Fundamentalist religious zealots would often rather poison the well than apologize honestly and sincerely for the harm they do.
Lee Taft, a former trial attorney and now an ethicist and expert on apology, believes that for an apology to be "authentic," it must contain the following ingredients: an acknowledgment that a rule has been violated; an admission of fault for its violation; an expression of genuine remorse and regret for any harm caused by the violation; and an explicit offer of restitution and promise of reform.
Taft further points out that the rendering of an authentic apology demands great courage from the party who has erred because that individual must not only acknowledge wrongdoing but also subject himself or herself to the consequences that result from the admission, including potential litigation. An apology that includes only an expression of sympathy without an admission of wrongdoing and offer of compensation is not an authentic apology. Rather, according to Taft, it is an "apologia," a term defined in the modern business environment as "a strategic communication designed not only to convey information, but more importantly, to neutralize the potential negative ramifications that might otherwise result from the information given."
An apologia, in other words, is simply a "full justification of one's position coupled with a defensive strategy." An authentic apology must include repentance, which encompasses two essential elements: the expression of sorrow and the admission of wrongdoing. The absence of either, concludes Taft, renders the apology incomplete and thus transforms it into a "botched apology."
Fortunately, a growing number of compassionate health care professionals have chosen to approach the thorny issue of medical error pro-actively. My physician daughter tipped me off to this change in the way her colleagues are rising to the challenge.
Dr. Michael Woods, a surgeon in Colorado and author of ''Healing Words: The Power of Apology in Medicine," said his own experience a decade ago illustrates the impact of the traditional way doctors have handled mistakes. ... Now a consultant to doctors and the malpractice insurance industry, Woods said his research has shown that being upset with a doctor's behavior often plays a bigger role than the error itself in patients' decisions to sue.
Canadians are not as litigation-crazy as US citizens are. But beyond financial considerations, a genuine and heart-felt apology is a critical element in the healing process, whether a medical error is at cause or inhumane religious dogma as is too often the case with the Vatican Taliban.