Why Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

In 2010, Canadian researchers Karina Schumann and Michael Ross, published the results of their study, in the journal Psychological Science, that gender stereotypers everywhere jumped on. And when I say jumped, I mean they dived, head first, from around a thousand feet up, and made a splash that Niagara falls would have been proud of. It was everywhere. Women’s magazines around the globe were in a frenzy to reference the study that finally proved what they had been saying for years – women say sorry more than men. And that was that. Proof. Argument over. End of analysis. Back to our coffee break.


But in fact, what many of them missed, and what turned out to be a far more pertinent and far more accurate reflection of real life, was that men and women actually apologised exactly the same percentage of time when they thought they had done something that warranted saying sorry (81% to be precise).

The real point was that women not only thought they had done something warranting an apology more often, but when compared to their male counterparts, they also rated the very same action as far more offensive too.

When placed in the context of other research, this becomes an even more interesting story.

Linguist Deborah Tannen noted that women use the word sorry as a ‘tip of the verbal hat’, to acknowledge something regrettable has happened – expressing understanding and concern rather than an apology. In other words, when a woman says sorry, she does not necessarily mean it is her fault, but is empathising with the other person, rather than acknowledging her own personal blame. Men on the other hand associate the word with a ‘confession’ of guilt, wrong doing and punishment.

The plot thickens even further when we throw into the mix that neuroscientists have long noted disparities between the male and female brain: Men tend to have proportionally more white matter in their heads, indicating a thick web of connections that strengthen orgnisational skills and problem solving. Women have greater connectivity between the left side of the brain, where logic and facts are mostly processed, and the right side, in charge of non linear thought like creativity and perception – this greater flow of signals between left and right may explain why women are better at connecting language and emotions.

Another piece of the jigsaw can be added by the Journal of Neuroscience’s report, that higher levels of FOXP2, the so called “language protein”, is found in the brains of women, and that at a younger age than first thought, girls relationships’ with talking and words, may well be more intrinsically motivated than that of boys.

And then let’s throw in the female desire to promote harmonious relationships and her more natural ability to recognize emotional experiences – both of which have long been established as a necessary part of the maternal design and women’s evolutionary development as nurturers and relationship builders.

The picture we’re left with is far more complex than those magazine headlines suggest. That picture is now of a female brain that may naturally like to talk more, can connect words and emotion more easily, prioritises other people’s feelings more instinctively, is more naturally concerned with building relationships, sees the word sorry as a means of showing empathy, thinks it has done something ‘sorryful’ more often and has a higher threshold of events which it deems apologising would be appropriate for.

But so what? And who cares in the frenetic pace of a twenty-four hour office, where time waits for no man. And no woman either for that matter. Let them read their magazine articles and be done with it. All this science mumbo jumbo and squidgy ‘soft skills’ talk of empathy, makes no difference in the real world right?

Well no. That’s not quite right.

As it turns out, this stereotyped wafer thin understanding that each gender has about the other’s perceived obsession with the word sorry, or complete inability to use it, causes serious upset. And major misunderstanding. And therefore, rather large amounts of conflict. And none of that is good for your office. Your organisation’s productivity levels. Or your figures. Let’s not forget your figures ( and I mean of the currency nature, rather than your BMI).

The point is that both genders have something to learn from the other when it comes to their use of the word ‘sorry’. And if both genders understood the science behind it, understood the other gender’s starting position, realised the very different approaches and meaning that the other attached, then they could start to narrow the chasm that often seems to exist.

Men could perhaps realise that his female client is just looking for some understanding, some form of acknowledgment about how she must be feeling, rather than assuming she is after an admission of guilt, signed, sealed and delivered with personal blame and appropriate punishment. And he might realise that she is looking to build a good working relationship with him by doing this and that it will only help him to build that ever elusive rapport, rather than damaging his much prized and over rated ego.

And women could perhaps stop for a second before reacting and understand that her male colleague is not refusing to say sorry because he doesn’t care about her, or that he is a heartless Neanderthal, who has no desire to work with her on equal terms in a team. But instead she could start to realise that he may not know that there is anything to apologise for, or that he is concerned that she thinks it is all his fault, which he does not believe it is, or that in fact perhaps it is not something that he feels warrants a ‘sorry’ at all. And whisper it quietly, but he may even be right. On just this one occasion, of course (and especially when we consider Dr Tyler Okimoto’s research into the negative impact saying sorry can have on your self esteem!)

It all comes back to that old chestnut  – empathy. Men need to put themselves in a woman’s position and vice versa. But to do this, they need to understand the basic brain design, emotional connections and gender specific motivations, which may be kicking around that office canteen. We all need to be told that those sweeping gender generalisations are only telling a fraction of the story. A potentially very damaging fraction at that. And that underneath it all, there is some good old fashioned natural biological design going on. Which, after all, is the most basic commonality that all men and women share. Even in Canada.

Only with this knowledge can we hope to start using the word sorry more often, less frequently, but always together.

How to Conduct Critical Conversations:: The PCA PREDICT™ Model: Part 3


The first article in our three-part series discussed how challenging and critical conversations can be enormously damaging to your future relationships if they go wrong. We also introduced our PREDICT™ model as a structured and systematic framework that will enable you to prepare for and then successfully conduct such conversations. The first article in the series can be viewed at this link THE PCA PREDICT™ MODEL: PART 1

In the second article of the series, we summarised and discussed the importance of each of the seven stages of the PCA PREDICT™ model. The second article can be viewed at this link THE PCA PREDICT™ MODEL: PART 2

In this, the third and final article of the series, we’ll be discussing nuance and variation within the PCA PREDICT™ model. We’ll also be following up this series with some blogs that will more fully explore each individual stage of the model.

PCA Predict ModelWithin the PCA PREDICT™ model, we appreciate that there will be nuance and variation, depending on the context you’re applying it to. So it’s important that we reflect this nuance and variation within it, given that a model is only as good as its ability to be applied in practice. In this respect, you’ll notice that there are a couple of extra dimensions that we’ve added.

Firstly, there is a dotted line between Rehearse and Engage. This reflects the fact that often, in reality, these types of challenging and critical conversation may not be something you anticipate or activate. For example, it may be that somebody else starts such a conversation with you, often unannounced, and you’re now having to be immediately reactive. In this case, the process will start below the line, and the very first thing you’ll be able to do is Engage.

Secondly, there are rotation arrows between Deliver and Investigate. These are indicative of the fact that different contexts may require you to Investigate before you Deliver, and vice versa. A serious client complaint for example, may need you to ask a plethora of questions to fully understand their position, before you’re in any position to launch into your message delivery.

And lastly, it’s important to recognise that different applications will require a greater or lesser emphasis on any of these seven stages. At PCA Law, we use this model to help clients navigate through any number of conversation-based challenges. And when we do, we’re clear that their focus will be defined by the demands of the particular context and audience that they’re dealing with.

So, now that you have a top-line understanding of what the PCA PREDICT™ model looks like, please keep an eye out for our future blogs on each of its individual stages. These will help build your confidence to start using this model, in order to transform the way that you conduct all definitive and essential day-to-day conversations.

How to Conduct Critical Conversations:: The PCA PREDICT™ Model: Part 2


In the first article of this three-part series, we discussed how challenging and critical conversations can have a hugely damaging impact on your future relationships if they go wrong. We then outlined the PCA PREDICT™ model as a structured and systematic framework that allows you to prepare for and then successfully conduct such conversations. The first article in the series can be viewed at this link: THE PCA PREDICT™ MODEL: PART 1

In this article, the second of the series, we’ll provide a headline summary explanation of each of the seven stages of the PCA PREDICT™ model. We’ll be discussing nuance and variation within the model in the third and final article of this series. Finally, we’ll follow up this series with some short but more in-depth blogs about each individual stage of the model.

PCA Predict ModelP is for Plan:

Intuitively, we all think we realise that this is often the stage we need to work on the most. Despite this, it’s often the stage that escapes us completely. For this reason, in our blog about Planning, we’ll give you firstly a specific set of questions to answer and secondly focused content for you to prepare, before you enter into any critical conversation.

R is for Rehearse:

This stage may be something that you don’t usually feel is important. However, just as you would hope that a sportsperson or musician would practise before any big performance, it’s vital that you find a way of integrating the rehearsal stage into your pre conversation process. We’ll give you some areas to focus on for this stage of the model, so that it feels more achievable in practice.

E is for Engage:

The first few moments of the conversation could have a definitive impact on what follows. Accordingly, in the Engage blog, we’ll suggest a few key skills that you need to employ fully and ‘switch on’ right from the outset.

D is for Deliver:

Of course, we all think we know what the message is that we’re intending to convey. However, more often than not, this doesn’t quite translate into practice the way we had hoped it would. In the Deliver blog, we’ll give you some clear tools to make sure that the message you intend to deliver is the message that is received.

I is for Investigate:

Questioning and data collection is absolutely vital if we’re going to reach a win:win, mutually beneficial conclusion. However, this is not something that we intuitively do when faced with challenging people or difficult situations. At this stage, we focus on how to make sure you’re both asking the right questions and listening in the right way.

C is for Collaborate:

Ideally, you’re going to find that win:win outcome and get crucial buy-in from the other person, which will help to establish a long-term, mutually profitable relationship with them. However, when you’re looking to achieve all of this, there’s only so far that hitting them with a big stick, or dangling an equally large carrot, can go. In the Collaborate blog, we’ll show you why and how collaboration is your best friend when it comes to critical conversations.

T is for Translate:

There’s no point in carrying out stages 1-6 to perfection, if you then fail to translate any of it into future action. At the final stage of the process, we’ll give you some clear tools that will enable you to turn all of your good work into some tangible results.

How to Conduct Critical Conversations:: The PCA PREDICT™ Model: Part 1


Some conversations are both immensely challenging and critical to your success, either as an individual or as an organisation. With these conversations, you simply can’t afford to just leave to chance whether you achieve your desired outcome from them.

If these challenging and critical conversations go wrong, they can have a hugely damaging impact on your future relationships. This holds true whether these relationships are with your work peers, line managers, team members, clients, friends or even family members.

The challenge of such a conversation might be the nature of the issue you want to discuss. It might also involve the context of the situation, or perhaps even pre-existing difficulties with the person you wish to converse with. Such challenging conversation scenarios could include anlude an executive peer-to-peer appraisal, a behavioural based feedback discussion or a key client conversion conversation. They could even include a discussion of a difficult friendship issue, or a family dispute that needs resolution.

In any event, what you need is a systematic and structured framework that allows you to prepare for and then successfully conduct such conversations. By using this framework, you can be secure in the knowledge that you can stay in control of each stage of the conversation process. You can also make some clear choices about how to drive the conversation towards a successful conclusion that is consistent with the outcome you wanted.

And that’s where PCA’s PREDICT™ model comes in.

PCA Predict ModelBefore we go through each stage of the PCA PREDICT™ model, it’s worth noting that we developed it by drawing on more than 20 years of combined personal communication training experience. This experience involved training senior executives in professional services firms, in FTSE 100 companies and in other leading international corporates. It also involved us working with academics and neuroscientists over the last 4 years.

Essentially, the PCA PREDICT™ model has evolved out of us practising literally thousands of challenging and critical conversations in a huge variety of contexts and applications. Furthermore, these conversations were practised with an extensive range of clients, all of whom needed to find a consistent approach to achieving win:win outcomes for the most difficult of situations.

This is the first article in a three-part series. In the second article of this series, we’ll be providing a headline summary explanation of each of these seven stages of the PCA PREDICT™ model. In the third and final article of the series, we’ll be discussing nuance and variation within the model.

In addition, we’ll be following up this series with a series of separate blogs, where we’ll go into each stage of PCA PREDICT™ in more detail. You’ll then be able to pick and choose which of these stages you’d like to know more about.


PCA Law (the Personal Communications Academy For Lawyers) are the legal sector’s specialist providers of conversation-based experiential training products

We are the only Personal Communication Consultancy in the world to work exclusively with lawyers...


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