When we say the wrong thing...repairing the message

January 31, 2006

The minute the words are said, the regret sets in.

Communication scientists from Case Western Reserve University and Kent State University have studied how and why people choose certain ways to repair the damage done once hurtful words are spoken.

According to Jane R. Meyer from Kent State and Kyra Rothenberg from Case, most people offered an apology, spurred by guilt to mend any offense their remarks might cause in an intimate relationship. Following the offer of an apology, the next popular ways people choose to smooth over the offensive message were to excuse or justify why the words were said. When embarrassed, people tended to avoid the message's receiver instead of making excuses or apologies.

The researchers discuss communication strategies in the article, "Repairing Regretted Messages: Effects of Emotional State, Relationship Type, and Seriousness of Offense," in Communication Research Reports, which sought answers to several questions:The researchers surveyed 204 undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 54 at a Midwestern university, asking them to recall a regretted conversation and write down what happened. The participants rated the seriousness of the offense and characterized their relationship with the person who heard what was said. Participants also checked off the strategies they used to repair the damage.

Meyer and Rothenberg discuss eight strategies people employ to smooth over the discomfort of the situation: an apology or concession, an excuse, a justification, a denial, silence, words to offset the harm, non-verbal reactions (like covering one's mouth after the words are said) and a change of subject.

The researchers also looked at whether the context of the situation--seriousness of the offense, the relationship of the speaker and hearer and the speaker's emotional state--influences which strategy is used.

They found that serious offenses generate apologies, with additional concessions, along with silence, occurring as the severity of the damage increases. An excuse was inadequate for a seriously regretted message, said the researchers.

What actions a person takes also depends upon the relationship--how intimate it is, how much the two people like each other and how much authority the receiver has over the message deliverer. In an intimate relationship, people tend to use justification but not always concessions to mend the mistake.

In addition to the study's publication, early findings from the research were presented in 2004 at a meeting of the Central States Communication Association.
-end-


Case Western Reserve University

Related Relationship Articles from Brightsurf:

Relationship value and economic value are evaluated by the same part of the brain
Researchers from several Japanese universities have revealed that the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for calculating economic value, is also responsible for judging the value of relationships with friends based on the received commitment signals.

Genetics: Romantic relationship dynamics may be in our genes
Variations in a gene called CD38, which is involved in attachment behaviour in non-human animals, may be associated with human romantic relationship dynamics in daily life, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

The relationship between looking/listening and human emotions
Toyohashi University of Technology has indicated that the relationship between attentional states in response to pictures and sounds and the emotions elicited by them may be different in visual perception and auditory perception.

The brain's functional organization slows down following a relationship breakup
During a person's life, the experience of a stressful life event can lead to the development of depressive symptoms, even in a non-clinical population.

Aiming for an enduring relationship
Why do some couples stay together yet others split up?

Fungal diversity and its relationship to the future of forests
Stanford researchers predict that climate change will reduce the diversity of symbiotic fungi that help trees grow.

Evolution: Revelatory relationship
A new study of the ecology of an enigmatic group of novel unicellular organisms by scientists from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich supports the idea hydrogen played an important role in the evolution of Eukaryota, the first nucleated cells.

Symbiosis as a tripartite relationship
While viruses are typically known for their pathogenic properties, new research findings now also demonstrate a positive influence of bacteriophages on the interaction of host organisms with bacteria.

Timing is everything for the mutualistic relationship between ants and acacias
Ant-acacia plants attract ants by offering specialized food and hollow thorns in which the ants live, while the ant colony in turn defends its acacia against herbivores.

Combing through someone's phone could lead to end of relationship -- or not
For some people, the thought of their partner, friend or colleague snooping through their phone, reading their texts and emails, is an automatic deal breaker.

Read More: Relationship News and Relationship Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.