Canadian researchers have the proof: Women apologize more often than men. Case closed, right? Not quite. Here's a look at what psychologists Karina Schumann and Michael Ross at Ontario's University of Waterloo found, what they didn't show, and the implications for ratcheting down the War of the Sexes:
So, women apologize more?
Yes, definitely, say Schumann and Ross in the journal Psychological Science. But it's largely because women think way more things merit an apology. When you look at how often people apologize for events they think they should apologize for, men and women come out equal, at an 81 percent apology rate.
How did they reach this conclusion?
They conducted two studies. The first involved 33 college students keeping a 12-day online diary cataloguing how often they apologized when they felt it was warranted, and the number of times they thought people owed them an apology. The second study had 120 students rate the severity of different offenses: Women, for example, found it much more rude and apology-worthy if you woke a friend, who then had trouble getting back to sleep and blew a job interview the next day.
Don't their findings kind of let men off the hook?
Technically, yes, says the Toronto Star's Cathal Kelly, since it "seems to put paid to the cliché that men refuse to apologize for anything lest it dent their fragile egos." But in practice, no, since the discrepancy between a man and woman's perceived apology-worthy offenses is "heightened" when it comes to romantic relationships. Bottom line, Kelly says: "Men should always apologize, even if they have no idea what they're apologizing for."
Why do men and women view apologies differently?
Schumann speculates that it's because women are more likely to see saying sorry as a way to repair a potentially damaged relationship. Or in Kelly's paraphrase: "Basically, women are emotionally clued in, empathic, and better verbal communicators. Men are just hungry and/or sleepy." It's no laughing matter, says marriage counselor Sam Margulies in Psychology Today. Where apologies are "routine" for women, men do view them as "humiliating and a loss of face," and their resulting reluctance to grovel and inability to "craft a sincere apology" is a real strain on marriages.
What can each sex learn from the study?
Men can learn the six crucial steps to a "proper apology," Margulies says, and guys, "if you do not want to waste your time you must include all six:" Say you were wrong, admit you hurt her feelings, say you're sorry, say you won't do it again (and don't smirk), negotiate her compensation, then ask for her forgiveness. Actually both sides could learn to communicate better, Schumann says. Instead of "assuming that your partner can read your mind or read your emotions accurately," just tell your partner "what you're experiencing" — then hope for the best.