Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

It's Time to Eat Some Crow ...

Unleash the Power of an Apology

Over the years, I have become quite the connoisseur of crow. I was quite reluctant at first – you can’t be serious, I gotta eat some crow? Yes, son, grandson, nephew, Craig, idiot, misfit – you gotta eat some crow. I have gotten fat on crow.

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

I have sampled crow in just about as many ways as Bubba Gump can serve up shrimp: crow sandwich, pickled crow, crow salad, crow legs, broiled crow, grilled crow, bacon-wrapped crow, crow’s feet, crow tartare, and even the highly prized, crow beak bisque.

With all the choices, I find crow best served up fried. What do you expect, I’m from East Tennessee. However, unlike every other fried food in the world, fried crow is actually good for you.

Learning to eat fried crow is learning to say ‘I’m sorry, I screwed up, I want to fix what I broke’.

Most folks want to save face, blame others, and go on about their business when they screw up. We generally prefer to hide our mistakes… it is simply way too costly to own up to making a mistake, particularly in a business setting.


Dead wrong.

We all screw up. Those that prefer to not admit mistakes quickly station various defensive mechanisms (e.g., Denial being a common go-to default defense mechanism).

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

In the long development of humankind, defense mechanisms have served us well to keep us alive. Fortunately, most of us are not faced with such life-threatening scenarios. However, in today’s fast-paced world, defense mechanisms can actually work against us.

A great deal of cognitive resources are used in keeping our defenses stationed. Research is clear – defense mechanisms consume a great deal of psychological resources, when resources are deployed to ‘off-task’ areas, performance drops – like, majorly drops. When we miss-direct our limited pool of psychological resources our performance drops because we are deploying them to irrelevant things (e.g., trying to save face, hiding white-lies). Couple that with a bunch of other really important people-stuff like commitment, satisfaction, well-being, and happiness … things start to head south pretty quickly. A simple apology can stop this pattern.

There is great power in an apology.

Dr. Robert Baron published a set of studies in 1990 in the prestigious Journal of Applied Psychology. His results were some of the first to thwart the power of catharsis (blowing off steam) to embrace the power of an apology. Quite simply, a sincere apology was the best strategy towards repairing and strengthening relationships and communication – for both the transgressor and the victim.

More recent work has solidified this view and has further emphasized the ‘sincere’ side of an apology. Since there are various levels of transgressions and transgressors – the more serious the transgression/or, the more heart-driven of an apology is required. In other words, if you are the boss, your apology better be genuine – the fake ones are seen as just that, fake… and they back fire making the situation even worse.

Why does this work you ask? Because an apology fosters psychological safety. Psychological safety allows individuals to feel comfortable expressing conflicting opinions, taking risks, and even screwing up. Psychologically safe work environments are routinely rated as top places to work and performance in such environments greatly outpaces those that lack psychological safety. This can start with something as simple as an apology. Apologies are catching – people respect those that own-up to mistakes, others reciprocate, and norms supporting apologies develop. This leads to a work climate that is psychologically safe.

To get started, just start by saying: “I’m sorry, I did not mean to screw up.”

So, which path do you want to take:

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

I can promise you this: If you learn to eat some crow, things will get better for you.