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Restoring Trust in Organizations and LeadersEnduring Challenges and Emerging Answers$

Roderick M. Kramer and Todd L. Pittinsky

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199756087

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199756087.001.0001

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The Art of the Apology

The Art of the Apology

The Structure and Effectiveness of Apologies in Trust Repair

(p.95) 5 The Art of the Apology
Restoring Trust in Organizations and Leaders

Roy J. Lewicki

Beth Polin

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Apologies are a common method for restoring broken trust. Yet research and practice has been both conflicted and inconclusive as to the critical elements of an effective apology. The authors review past research on the role of apologies in trust repair, including evaluation of essential components and key moderators that determine their effectiveness. A comprehensive framework for apology structure is proposed, as well as three essential moderators. The paper then ‘tests’ this framework against the actual apologies of several well-known public individuals and companies who have committed major trust violations. The chapter concludes with discussion of these ‘case studies’ and an agenda for future research.

Keywords:   apologies, broken trust, trust repair

In the past decade, there has been a wealth of research on the structure and nature of trust and, more recently, on trust repair. Yet, as noted in a recent review of the “state of theory and research in trust repair” (Dirks, Lewicki, & Zaheer, 2009), much work remains to be done. One major critique raised in the 2009 review is that most studies have been laboratory-based, hence looking only at the highly bounded, short-term effects of trust repair efforts. We believe it is time to step out of the laboratory; much can be learned from studying actual efforts to repair trust in “real,” “live” trust contexts.

There are a number of approaches that a party who has violated or broken trust (i.e., the violator) can take with another (i.e., the victim) to repair it. First, violators can intentionally remain silent, hoping the problem will go away. Second, they can verbally acknowledge that they are aware that some action has broken the trust, without further comment. A third action that can be taken (in addition to, or instead of, the first two) is to compensate the victim for whatever losses may have occurred as a result of the breach. Finally, violators can attempt to heal the relationship by making some verbal statement that personally accounts for and/or takes responsibility for the transgression.

These four actions are some of the most common tools used by violators to repair trust. Explanations and accounts simply provide additional information about the beliefs, perceptions, and motivations of the actor that lead to the actions that created the trust violation. They can also reframe, “spin,” or minimize the impact of the trust violation. Characteristics of the explanations and the explainer have a significant impact on whether the victim accepts the explanation and is willing to risk trusting the other again (Ohbuchi, Kameda, & Agarie, 1989; Shapiro, 1991). Alternatively, apologists assume some responsibility for the actions that lead to the trust violation and often signal or commit to future actions that will be undertaken to repair the trust. A handful of important research studies have begun to explore the characteristics of apologies, including the effectiveness of perceived sincerity, taking responsibility for the transgression (as opposed to denial), timing, how “blame” was assigned, the type of trust violation, and the relationship context in which the violation occurred (c.f. Kramer & Lewicki, 2010; Tomlinson, Dineen, & Lewicki, 2004).

In this chapter, we review the literature on the role and impact of apologies on trust repair. We begin with our working definitions of trust and trustworthiness and the extensive theorizing and research on trust that has been conducted over the past 15 to 20 years. Next, we review the fundamental research on various (p.96) approaches to trust repair, particularly focusing on the role played by various forms of accounts, explanations, and apologies, and showing how that work has highlighted important questions about fully understanding the trust repair process. We then turn to our own research, which provides a more finely grained understanding of the structural components of an apology and how those various components may differentially lead to the effectiveness of an apology. Our “data” are drawn from several visible and widely publicized apologies issued by sports figures, government officials, and corporate leaders who have violated public trust in recent years. These examples allow us to evaluate the status of current research on the role of apologies in trust repair, offer insight as to what constitutes an effective apology, and identify some opportunities for future research.

The Nature of Trust

We necessarily begin our exploration of the role of apologies in trust repair with a brief exploration of the nature of trust as a construct. To understand how trust can be repaired, one must first determine what trust is and how it is broken. If we have a better understanding of what a trust breach is and how it “works,” we can then learn what must be addressed for that breach to be “fixed.” The body of work on trust repair has unfortunately not approached this problem as systematically as one might like (c.f. Dirks et al., 2009).

The research literature on trust enjoys a tradition that spans at least 50 years, although most of the strongest empirical and theoretical work has been conducted since the mid-1990s. Throughout that history, there have been many definitions of the trust construct (c.f. Bigley & Pearce, 1998; Lewicki, Tomlinson, & Gillespie, 2006), and numerous ways to measure trust have been attempted (Lyon, Moellering, Saunders, & Hatzakis, 2011). (A complete and systematic review of that work would be a book in itself!) This explosion of theory and empirical research on trust can be explained, in part, by the fact that trust itself cannot be directly seen and measured. Like many other individual attitudes and dispositions, trust is a psychological disposition that can be inferred in two major ways: by exploring an individual’s psychological state (thoughts, judgments, intentions, expectations, dispositions, and emotions), and by examining and drawing inferences from an individual’s behavior. As we will note, the implications for trust repair are that repair actions directed at the psychological state itself seek to change the psychological state from a negative one back to a positive one, while those directed at changing behavior seek to increase the frequency of trusting actions and reduce the frequency of defensive behavior and distrusting actions.

For the purposes of this chapter, we intend to focus on trust as a psychological state and on those actions that ultimately enhance that psychological state. Following the generally accepted definition proposed by Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt and Camerer (1998) and their systematic review of trust theory, we define trust as “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another” (p. 395). A similar definition is proposed by Lewicki, McAllister, and Bies (1998) as “confident positive expectations regarding another’s conduct.” Moreover, distrust is often discussed as (p.97) separate from, and not necessarily the simple absence of, trust. Lewicki et al. (1998) also propose that distrust is distinctly different from trust and define it as “confident negative expectations regarding another’s conduct.” Finally, trust and distrust occur within the context of different types of relationships, and several authors have proposed that trust is significantly different as these relationships vary (c.f. Lewicki & Bunker, 1996; Rousseau et al., 1998; Sheppard & Sherman, 1998). One type of trust is a dominantly “calculus-based” trust. This type of trust is grounded in both the rewards for being trusting (or trustworthy) and the fear of the consequences of not being trusting (or trustworthy). This type of trust is most characteristic of arm’s-length “market transactions” between parties in which the parties must calculate the benefits and costs of staying in the relationship against the benefits and costs of pursuing an alternative relationship (i.e., a typical relationship between a supplier and its customers). Calculus-based trust is strengthened through repeated interactions highlighted by consistency and reliability, and by sustaining the positive benefits relative to the negative costs. In contrast, a second type of trust is dominantly “relationship-based” and is grounded in parties developing strong commonality of interests and desires, as well as in the parties’ ability to fully understand about what the other cares so as to work toward common goals, common expectations, and shared values. Not unsurprisingly, strong, positive, emotional attachment between the parties is also more typical of relationship-based trust.

Ways That Trust Is Broken

Early laboratory research on trust and trust violations was conducted using simple decision-making games (e.g., Prisoners’ Dilemma or the “Trust Game” [Berg, Dickhaut, & McCabe, 1995; Deutsch, 1958]), and hence trust violations were narrowly defined in the context of making a noncooperative choice within those games. But when one focuses the lens on relationships more broadly, trust can be broken in a number of ways. For example, Fraser (2010) interviewed members of many organizational work groups to determine which factors most frequently contributed to breakdowns in trust. Among the most commonly mentioned causes were:

  1. 1. Communication issues: not listening to others, not working to understand the other party, and breakdown in communication around major changes

  2. 2. Unmet expectations: broken promises, breaches in the psychological contract, breach of confidentiality, and breach of rules

  3. 3. Disrespectful behaviors: discounting people or their contributions, disregarding feelings and input, and blaming other people for problems

  4. 4. Unwillingness to acknowledge: taking no responsibility for mistakes or issues, not owning issues or the violation itself, placing self before the group

  5. 5. Incongruence: misaligned with or not honoring core values, mission, practices; actions do not match words

  6. 6. Ineffective leadership: punishing those who challenged authority, poor decisions, favoritism, or unwillingness to address major issues

  7. (p.98)
  8. 7. Performance issues: unwilling or unable to perform basic job duties, making mistakes, issues of general competence

  9. 8. Structural issues, including changes in systems and procedures, lack of structure or too much structure, misalignment of job duties and authority

Given the scope of this list, it is easy to see that trust can be broken in a variety of different ways in a relationship, some intentional, others unintentional. Another perspective offered by Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman (1995) has provided a more focused and economical outlook. They suggest that trustworthiness (the victim’s trust for the violator) is grounded in three different judgments of the other: ability (the other’s competence), benevolence (the other’s positive emotional treatment), and integrity (the other’s willingness to be honest, keep his or her word, deliver on promises, etc.). Comparing these against Fraser’s list, we see that ability violations might be more likely to occur around Unwillingness to Acknowledge or Performance Issues, benevolence violations around Disrespecting or Ineffective Leadership, and integrity violations around Incongruence or Unmet Expectations.

How Trust Is Repaired

Lewicki and Bunker (1996) propose a model of trust violation and repair. They indicate that for trust repair to occur, three assumptions have to be made. First, as we noted in our definition of trust, trust has cognitive and emotional components, and usually has behavioral consequences. When trust is violated, both cognitive and emotional components are likely to be affected. Whatever repair processes are used will therefore need to address both the cognitive and emotional components, either directly or indirectly through changed behavioral outcomes. Second, because trust is the “glue” of most cooperative relationships, the violation will rarely be seen as an isolated event affecting only a single transaction between the parties; it is more likely to be seen as a diagnostic signal that the relationship itself has sustained damage.

Trust repair efforts, then, may need to address both the short-term consequences that the violation has caused as well as the longer-term impact on subsequent trust between the parties. Finally, trust repair is a bilateral process. While the onus of responsibility for trust repair often falls to the trust violator (who is the focus of research on trust repair dynamics), complete trust repair is a two-way street that requires both parties’ active engagement. While it is the violators who are generally required to initiate the process and expend much of the effort, the victim must also recognize the violation, make attributions about the violation and violator that enable trust repair, and accept the repair initiatives of the violator in a way that moves the relationship forward toward a more healthy and productive future state. For full repair to occur, both parties must be willing to invest time and energy in the repair process, perceive that the short- and long-term benefits of repair outweigh the costs, and recognize that the benefits to be derived from repair are preferable to terminating the relationship and attempting to have one’s needs met elsewhere (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996, pp. 129–132).

(p.99) There have been three general approaches to studying trust repair: verbal accounts that use words and emotional expression to manage the violation; specific, tangible actions designed to redress the victim for harm created by the violation; and “structural solutions” that specify the consequences of any future violations and/or minimize the possibility of future violations (see Kramer & Lewicki, 2010, for a review of these three approaches). In this chapter, we will focus on verbal accounts and will not address structural solutions, but we should acknowledge the importance of substantive reparations. Many researchers believe that verbal accounts are no more than “cheap talk” (Farrell & Rubin, 1996), and that the only meaningful approach to trust repair is through providing some form of substantive, tangible compensation to the victim. To investigate the role of tangible compensation or reparations, several studies (Bottom, Gibson, Daniels & Murnighan, 2002; Gibson, Bottom, & Murnighan, 1999) have used a two-person experimental game to compare the effectiveness of substantive reparations (penance) versus apologies following a trust violation. Their results show that penance is clearly superior to verbal actions in restoring long-term cooperation within the game. Even small amounts of penance were as effective as large amounts, and both surpassed the offering of stand-alone verbal accounts; when the two were combined, verbal accounts did enhance the capacity to restore long-term cooperation. But note again that the context of this trust violation was an economic game in which clear substantive harm is done to the victim and reparations may be necessary to redress the specific losses in order to rebuild trust. In many other situations, the harm constitutes more damage to the violator’s credibility and the victim’s emotional state, and in those situations, well-designed and targeted verbal strategies may be more critical in the trust-rebuilding process.

In the following pages, we review the basic research that has been done on the structure and efficacy of these verbal accounts. We will first explore the variety of verbal strategies that are typically offered following a trust violation. We will then specifically turn to apologies and explore the impact of the mere act of apologizing (vs. not apologizing for the trust violation or denying it) on trust repair. Third, we will briefly highlight some of the major factors that moderate whether an apology is effective. Finally, we turn to the very structure of an apology itself, where we examine the key linguistic components that may make a stand-alone apology more or less effective.

Verbal Accounts

Academics and popular culture alike are interested in the structure and impact of verbal accounts (including apologies), as evidenced by the expanding literature on the subject. Our work is relevant to both domains because while we are trying to better understand the moderating factors of the effectiveness of an apology, we are also examining responses to actual trust breaches that have occurred in corporate and public life, not only within the confines of a controlled research laboratory. Upon reviewing articles from both the academic literature and popular books in psychology, three areas of interest emerge. One area is in understanding when a violator should apologize; that is, is apologizing always a good idea? A second (p.100) area is in recognizing the proper underlying component structure of an effective apology. Finally, there is common interest in identifying factors that moderate the effectiveness of an apology; in other words, what factors affect when an apology is likely to be more or less effective? The first common theme has been studied in academic literature, and it will be summarized here. We then tackle the answer to these second and third points with our data of contemporary examples of highly public—and variably effective—apologies.

When to Apologize

Somewhat surprisingly, several studies have shown that apologies are not necessarily always useful or effective (see Scher & Darley, 1997, for a summary of early work). In several studies, Ferrin, Bligh, and Kohles (2007) and Thomas and Millar (2008) reported that apologizing was more likely to be perceived as useful than not apologizing—that is, not saying anything—if for no other reason than an apology is typically seen by others as a critical signal that the violator was aware that a trust violation had occurred, that he or she bore some responsibility for the violation, and that he or she was willing to explore trust repair efforts. In fact, not apologizing may be viewed by the victim as compounding the harm created by the violation itself. But subsequent research suggested something different: first, that verbalizing a denial of responsibility may actually be effective in some circumstances; and second, that there was reasoning behind why a violator may choose silence. When the violator has broken elements of a competency-based trust (i.e., a failure to perform based on abilities), trust was more effectively repaired when it was followed by an apology; however, when the violator has broken elements of integrity-based trust (i.e., keeping one’s word or breaking a confidence), denial of the action was more effective in repairing trust than accepting responsibility for the violation (Kim, Ferrin, Cooper, & Dirks, 2004). Since it is not uncommon for public figures to deny responsibility for their indiscretions (unless unambiguous evidence surfaces to the contrary), these results provide some intriguing evidence for supporting the effectiveness of denial under some circumstances.

To explain why some violators choose reticence, these same authors (Ferrin, Kim, Cooper, & Dirks, 2007) provide a few possible explanations. First, some individuals may choose silence if they do not believe they will be caught. Their strategy may be to stay silent until the truth is discovered and then break their silence, or they may believe that they have no obligation to speak at any point. While some may call this strategy and others may call it deception, it is not the only explanation for a lack of explanation or apology. Other individuals may stay silent because an explanation would reveal private, personal information that is more harmful to themselves or others than the known transgression. Cultural norms in the United States and many other countries support individual rights to not self-incriminate, too, and silence may be a strategy recommended by these public figures’ attorneys. Trust was not repaired in the cases we reviewed in which no apology—or even denial—was made, but offering an apology, as we will see, does not always guarantee a reciprocation of trust repair from the victim. More research in this area is clearly required. We suspect that attributional processes by the victim are at least (p.101) one factor that can play a big role in determining whether an apology or non-apology is effective (see Tomlinson & Mayer, 2009, for one strong theoretical statement on the role of attributions in evaluating trust repair statements). In cases of huge breaches of trust (e.g., the investment advisor Bernard Madoff or the CEO of British Petroleum about the oil well failure in the Gulf of Mexico, whose statements we will examine later in the chapter), the violations of public trust were so significant that apologies alone may be necessary but completely insufficient to repair trust. Thus, it may be that as a stand-alone strategy, for apologies to work, some remaining modicum of trust and credibility must remain to serve as a foundation for trust repair.

Component Structures of Effective Apologies

Just as academic research has sought to answer the question of when an apology is the best response to a trust violation, academics and popular culture books alike have proposed various “how to” approaches for offering effective apologies. Scher and Darley (1997) took an academic approach of summarizing the extensive work on apologies up to that date and concluded their work with an assessment of the Cross-Cultural Speech Acts Realization Project, which, among other things, had performed an extensive analysis of requests and apologies across cultures. Five major components of an effective apology emerged from that analysis:

  1. 1. An illocutionary force-indicating device (IFID), which is an expression of regret characterized by saying words such as “I’m sorry,” “I apologize,” or “Excuse me” with some pronounced emotional inflection

  2. 2. An explanation or account of the cause that brought about the violation

  3. 3. An expression of the speaker’s responsibility for the offense

  4. 4. An offer of repair

  5. 5. A promise of forbearance, or the willingness of the violator to refrain from future violations (Scher & Darley, 1997, p. 128)

In assessing these component elements, Scher and Darley indicate that an apology should have two important functions in social discourse: first, it should show that the speaker is aware of the social requirement to apologize in situations; and second, it should disclose the psychological state of the speaker. Thus, they conclude, at least two of these five elements are a must for an apology: acknowledgment of responsibility for committing the offending act, and expressing regret for the offense. The first is necessary because it conveys to the victim that the violator is aware that some social norm or rule has been violated—that is, that actions governing trust have been broken—and that the speaker’s awareness can result in not breaking that norm or rule in the future. The second, regret, is necessary because it is the primary information conveyed by the apology—usually an expression of feeling. Without the expression of emotion, words alone are generally viewed as sterile or formal, since sterile words do not contain expressions of emotion, and hence undermine the broader effectiveness of the apology. The victim needs to experience the violator feeling some distress, remorse, embarrassment, or other emotional state as a result of the violation.

(p.102) Scher and Darley propose that two more components critical to an effective apology be added to these first two. One addition is a promise of forbearance, which signals that the speaker intends to not repeat the violation. Repairing the breach in the relationship may depend on the victim believing that the violator will not repeat the offense. The second addition, an offer of repair, signals that the violator is willing to “make the situation right” (p. 130) by attempting to restore the relationship and the situation to that point where it was, as if the violation had not occurred. The authors argue that the fifth and final element, an explanation or account for how and why the violation occurred, is actually not part of an effective apology; such explanations, they argue, may serve to improve the image of the violator in the victim’s eyes but are not an integral part of the apology speech act.

To test the criticality of these four component elements—an acknowledgement of responsibility for committing the offending act, an expression of regret for the offense, a promise of forbearance, and an offer of repair—the authors engaged in a research study to explore the relative power of each in determining the perceptions of the speaker, reduce the need to impose sanctions on the speaker, and increase the perceived appropriateness of the apology. Experimental subjects—college students in this case—were presented with a fictitious scenario about an actor who promised to call a friend with some information that was critical to the friend’s upcoming job interview but then forgot to make the call. Several days later, the actor called and offered an apology. The structure of the apology varied the number of the component elements included so that study participants judged multiple scenarios in which one, two, three, or all four component elements were present, in the following order: the IFID, or expression of regret; the expression of responsibility; the expression of forbearance; and the signal of repair.

The results of their study show that each of the four component elements had clear, independent, and additive effects on judgments of the violator, such as the appropriateness of the statement, how much the violator was blamed and whether sanctions were imposed, and perceptions of the violator. Making an apology (compared to not making an apology) contributed the clearest and strongest effect, an effect that was strengthened when the violator took responsibility, offered repair, and promised not to repeat the violation in the future. These three components had the strongest impact on the perceived remorse of the violator, while the acknowledged responsibility of the violator appeared to contribute the second-strongest effect. The expression of emotion—the IFID—did not contribute as much impact as the other three variables, but this result may be an artifact of the particular experimental design.

Stepping away from academic literature for a moment, imagine being in a local bookstore browsing the self-help books on trust and relationship repair. One book that is probably guaranteed to be on the shelf is Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas’ The Five Languages of Apology (2006). In this book, the authors stress the importance of apologizing, and they articulate five “fundamental aspects” of an effective apology: expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness. Their five points correspond closely, although in a different order, to the four components identified by Scher (p.103) and Darley. Chapman and Thomas support their list of apology aspects not with scientific data but with observation and experience. They explain that expressing regret, which is most commonly done by using the words “I’m sorry,” is “the emotional aspect of an apology,” the aspect of letting the victim know that the violator knows the victim is feeling pain, and that causes the violator pain (p. 26). Their second aspect, accepting responsibility, is often difficult for people because the cultural norm is to not want to admit a wrongdoing. But the authors argue that “learning to say ‘I was wrong’ is a major step toward becoming a responsible and successful adult” (p. 39), and for many victims, it is the part that convinces them the violator’s apology is sincere. The third aspect, making restitution, hits on the point that people like to “make things right” and believe that wrongdoings should be “paid for,” which is the basic idea of legal justice systems (p. 54). The authors relate back to Chapman’s earlier book, The Five Love Languages, explaining that making restitution can be done by using words of affirmation, through acts of service, by giving gifts, by giving quality time, or through physical touch. Genuinely repenting, the fourth aspect, is important because it reaffirms other apology aspects: after all, violators cannot truly repent and accept responsibility if they turn around and repeat the offense. Finally, requesting forgiveness is a reminder that repairing trust is a bilateral process: the relationship cannot begin to heal unless both the violator and victim are willing to make amends and work toward repair. While the authors explain that all five aspects are important, their message is that some individuals may be better at communicating one or two of the apology aspects and not as gifted at the others.

Moderators of the Effectiveness of an Apology

A number of factors that moderate the effectiveness of an apology have been identified in the academic literature, including violator acceptance of responsibility for the trust breach, the magnitude or severity of the breach, the prior relationship between the victim and the violator, where perceived fault lies for the violation, and national culture. Table 5-1 summarizes these moderators and the key references that have investigated the impact of that variable. As we will see, many of these moderators have also been considered integral to the very structure of an effective apology. Gender has also been considered, with researchers questioning whether men or women apologize more frequently. While it has been generally thought that women are more inclined to apologize (an argument supported by Holmes, 1989), researchers Schumann and Ross (2010) tested this assumption, claiming that “there is no compelling evidence of such a difference,” and arguing that there were methodological flaws in Holmes’ study (p. 1649). Through a 12-day diary study, Schumann and Ross found that women do apologize more than men, but women also report committing more offenses than men. As the authors explain, “once men and women categorized a behavior as offensive, they were equally likely to apologize for it, and their apologies were similarly effusive” (p. 1651).

We have chosen to focus on three of these moderators in our analysis: the nature of the trust breach itself, the type of communication (explanation, excuse, or apology), and the timing of the communication. (p.104)

Table 5-1 Commonly Studied Moderators of an Apology’s Effectiveness



Finding and References

Acceptance of Responsibility

Violator does or does not accept responsibility for the violation.

Accepting responsibility is more effective (Tomlinson et al., 2004; Han & Cai, 2010).

National Culture

How cultures differ in their use of apologies

Asian cultures respond differently than Western cultures (Han & Cai, 2010).

Nature of the Breach Itself

What element of trustworthiness was violated?

Competence violations are different than integrity violations (Ferrin, Kim, Cooper & Dirks, 2007; Poppo & Schepker, 2010).

Perceived “Fault”

Whether the violator is seen as having caused the violation

Clear “fault” warrants an apology but even “accidents” can benefit from an apology (Blackman & Stubbs, 2001).

Prior Relationship

Whether there was a prior relationship between the victim and violator, and the quality of that relationship

Prior relationships can directly affect the victim’s willingness to accept an apology and reconcile (Tomlinson et al., 2004; Han & Cai, 2010).

Severity of Breach

Magnitude or severity of the trust breach and/or consequences of the breach for the victim

More severe violations require more intense and complex repair efforts (Bachman & Guerrero, 2006; Bottom et. al., 2002; Han & Cai, 2010).

Timing of the Repair Communication

How quickly the violator apologizes after the violation; how “ready” the victim is to receive the apology

The sooner the apology, the more effective it is in trust repair (Frantz & Benningson 2005; Tomlinson et. al., 2004).

The nature of the breach itself can influence the effectiveness of an apology and, in turn, how well an attempt at repair is accepted. We heard earlier that ability-based breaches of trust are viewed differently than integrity-based breaches of trust, and that sometimes an apology is not always the right response, depending on the type of trust breach (Ferrin et. al., 2007; Ferrin, Kim et al., 2007). Specifically relevant to our present work is an article that discusses organizational trust breaches (Poppo & Schepker, 2010). The authors define public trust as “the degree to which external stakeholders, such as the public, hold a collective trust orientation toward an organization” (p. 124). Because of the importance of trust to many organizations’ survival, repairing it after an organizational failure is critical. They suggest that integrity-based trust violations may spill over into other areas of the relationship, whereas competence-based violations are less likely to do so. Moreover, integrity-based violations are seen as less controllable than competency-based violations. Because of this, it is important for organizations that violate competency-based trust to respond more quickly than to an integrity-based violation. Finally, similar to Ferrin et al. (2007), these authors also assert that denials are the most likely response to integrity-based violations and apologies are the more likely response to competence-based violations.

Another important moderator to consider is the type of verbal communication made in the effort to repair trust. A number of studies in the management and communications literatures have classified and discussed the various types of verbal accounts that parties use to manage conflict and resolve differences (c.f. Schonbach, 1980; Sitkin & Bies, 1993). Many different terms have been used, including, but not limited to, explanations, accounts, recounts, apologies, excuses, (p.105) and justifications. We will address only three specific types of accounts in this chapter: explanations, excuses, and apologies.

An explanation is a verbal account that attempts to offer reasons and rationales for why a particular past action has occurred. Shapiro (1991) studied the impact of various forms of explanation and their impact on trust repair following a betrayal. Not surprisingly, the characteristics of the explanations (particularly the perceived adequacy) and the explainer (e.g., credibility) had a significant impact on whether the explanation was effective at increasing the victim’s willingness to repair trust (see also Ohbuchi et al., 1989).

At least one group of researchers has extensively explored the role and effectiveness of excuses (Schlenker, Pontari, & Christopher, 2001). The purpose of an excuse is not to take responsibility for the action, but, as the authors note, “to disengage the self from events and conditions under which advantages and disadvantages accrue,” or in other words, to escape being seen as responsible and encountering either the negative or positive consequences (p. 15). Their review indicates that excuse-makers are seen as deceptive, self-absorbed, and ineffectual; are thought to be unreliable and have flawed character (i.e., excuses that might violate competence-based and integrity-based trust); and have a number of other negative consequences on perceptions of the excuse-maker and the quality of the relationship with the victim.

An apology is an account “which conveys an admission of responsibility and regret on the part of an offender for the violation and its concomitant harm on the victim, and may also convey a stated desire to reconcile and continue the relationship” (Tomlinson et al., 2004, p. 169). As a form of account, apologies can be influential because they help the victim gain considerably more information about the causes of the violation and the violator’s disposition. Greenberg (1990) defines an apology as an attempt “to convince an audience that although the actor accepts blame for the undesirable event, any attributions made on the basis of it would not [necessarily] be accurate” (p. 133). Apologies can thus help to mitigate retributive actions from the victim, as well as be an instrumental step in signaling that the violator wishes to initiate steps in trust repair.

A third and final moderator of consideration is the timing of the communication (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996). It is thought by most that the sooner the apology, the better. If an apology is given too late, it might be viewed as an afterthought. Tomlinson, Dineen, and Lewicki (2004) hypothesized and found support for an earlier apology being better than a later apology. Not all researchers agree with these findings, however. Frantz and Bennigson (2005) argue that a later apology allows violators to consider their actions and apologize with more understanding and self-expression. Through a study using undergraduate students, these authors find support for their hypotheses, too. More research is needed in this area to replicate and clarify findings.

So What Do We Make of This Accumulation of Research?

It is interesting to see that the components and aspects of an effective apology are being identified by academics and practitioners alike. The results of Scher and (p.106) Darley’s study as well as the insights of Chapman and Thomas contribute important building blocks to assembling an effective apology. Through the academic literature on apologies and trust repair, we now understand how the nature of the trust breach, the type of communication, and the timing of the communication influence the effectiveness of an attempt at trust repair. As we mentioned earlier, however, much of the academic research on apologies is still taking place in confined laboratory spaces in which the victims have not personally experienced lost trust or truly felt the painful, significant consequences of a trust violation. Moreover, efforts at trust repair in these studies have been measured within short, narrow, well-defined, and unrealistic periods of time. In contrast, “real” apologies most often occur in contexts in which the trust breach has been significant, in contexts where the violation has been strong and with significant public visibility, and where the consequences for the violator and victim are quite dramatic.

Compiling all of this knowledge, we have developed a framework that outlines what we believe is important to consider when evaluating and critiquing apologies (the first column of Table 5-2). From our literature review, we derived nine components of apologies that should be present and properly executed to increase the probability that an apology will be effective: six core components and three “moderators.” The first four core components are those found in both Scher and Darley’s and Chapman and Thomas’ work: an expression of regret for the offense, an acknowledgement of responsibility, a declaration of repentance, and an offer of repair. Our fifth core component is also from Scher and Darley: an explanation of why the violation occurred. (While they did not believe this component to be essential to an effective apology, we believed that a strong argument could be made for retaining it as a core component.) A request for forgiveness, our sixth core component, is the final fundamental aspect of an apology as argued by Chapman and Thomas. After evaluating the components of the apology, we also examine the

Table 5-2 Evaluation Criteria for Critiquing Apologies and Critiques of Four Apologies

Tiger Woods

Bernie Madoff

British Petroleum



Expression of Regret for the Offense

(compared to an explanation or an excuse)





Acknowledgment of Responsibility





Declaration of Repentance





Offer of Repair





Explanation of Why the Violation Occurred





Request of Forgiveness






Nature of the Trust Breach





Type of Repair Communication (explanation, excuse, apology)





Timing of the Repair Communication

When caught

When caught

8 weeks after initial incident

Days after initial incident

(p.107) effects of three specific moderators on the effectiveness of the apology: the nature of the breach itself; the type of communication (explanation, excuse, apology); and the timing of the breach.


In an effort to test the viability, validity, and applicability of our framework, we have chosen to test this expanded framework (Table 5-2) on “real,” “live” apologies. Fortunately for us, the contemporary political, organizational, and sports worlds have provided us with ample useful data. Huge violations of public trust have been committed by sports figures (e.g., Tiger Woods, Bill Belichick), politicians (e.g., Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards), entertainment personalities (e.g., David Letterman), financial advisors and institutions (e.g., Bernard Madoff, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns), and other corporations (e.g., Toyota, National Century, JetBlue). In these and many other cases, the individuals themselves and/or their designated officers have offered explanations, excuses, and apologies for the trust violation. It is interesting to note that most of the public statements we came across were made by men, a bias that is most likely best explained by the fact that there are more men holding leadership positions in companies than women. For illustrative purposes in this chapter, we will examine only four of these highly publicized and notorious trust violations that appeared in the national media in 2009 and 2010, as well as the public statements made by key actors about those events: individuals Tiger Woods and Bernard Madoff, and corporations British Petroleum and JetBlue.

The central challenge to using these “live” apologies is that there is no clear criterion variable; in other words, was trust actually repaired? If so, how would we know? One way to answer this question is to look at performance success markers such as stock performance or the gain or loss of endorsements. But a number of other extraneous intervening events could also create these outcomes. Another way is to analyze the response of the public and weigh their opinions and support for the individual or company. A public who continues to invest with, cheer for, or purchase the violator’s product have, to some degree, accepted the apology and made the bilateral step toward a once-again-positive relationship. We have chosen to use the latter method for evaluating whether trust was repaired, but our evaluations will necessarily be speculative and impressionistic. Hence, we extensively reviewed these four cases by gathering facts about the violation from a number of trusted sources, learning public opinion on the matter through reliable news outlets, and attempting to understand the violation from the violator’s perspective through blogs, personal or company websites, and of course, the apology itself and the public response to it. We next provide a brief overview of the facts of each of those trust violations.

Tiger Woods

Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is an American professional golfer whose achievements rank him among the most successful golfers of all time and highest-paid professional athletes in the world. His career major wins and career Professional (p.108) Golfers Association Tour wins put him first in the world at the end of 2009, and he also benefited significantly from a number of product endorsements and business ventures.

In late November 2009, however, a newspaper story announced that Woods had an intimate affair with a model, Rachel Uchitel. Only days later, Woods was in a minor car accident, and his wife was seen supposedly breaking the rear window of the vehicle in order to save Woods and get him out of the car. Over the next few weeks, at least 12 women came forward saying they also had an affair with Woods, and it was soon realized that Woods’ wife was not breaking the window to save him, but breaking it in anger over his affairs. In December 2009, Woods released an apology statement saying he had let his family down and another statement saying he would not be participating in any more tournaments in the 2009 year. After losing most of his product endorsements and spending 20 weeks in a treatment center for sex addiction, Woods made a formal apology to the public and returned to golf for the 2010 season, where he failed to win a major tournament and eventually lost his world number-one rating.

Bernard Madoff

Bernard Madoff is a former stockbroker and investment advisor. In 1960, he founded the Wall Street financial securities firm of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC and was its chairman until the end of 2008. In 1999, speculations about his business surfaced. It was thought that there was no way to account for the incredibly profitable gains that Madoff was reporting. Over the next few years, whistleblower Harry Markopolos approached numerous agencies trying to bring Madoff’s practices to light. Madoff finally admitted to what is now the largest Ponzi scheme in history, confessing to his sons that the asset management division of his firm was “one big lie.” Including fabricated gains, the amount lost totaled $65 billion, although actual losses are estimated to be only $18 billion. In June 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison, despite his age of 70.

British Petroleum

British Petroleum (BP) is a global oil and gas company headquartered in London. It is the third largest energy company and the fourth largest company in the world, as measured by revenues. Until 2010, its record on corporate social responsibility had been mixed. The company had been involved in a number of major safety and environmental events and had been criticized for its excessive political influence. In the spring of 2010, an explosion aboard BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and injured 17 others, and marked the beginning of the largest accidental marine oil spill in America’s history and the history of the oil industry. Initially, BP claimed the spill was not devastating and that it would be quickly and efficiently repaired. However, it took three months to cap the well, during which time approximately 53,000 barrels of oil per day escaped into the Gulf, or an estimated total of 205.8 million gallons, creating significant damage to marine and wildlife habitats and the fishing and tourism industries that (p.109) will persist for years. BP spent billions of dollars in their efforts to cap the well and to repair the damage from the leaking oil. After its own internal investigation, BP admitted that it had skirted numerous safety regulations in well construction and monitoring. BP officials made several public statements regarding the explosion and the spill and its impact on the economy and environment of the Gulf of Mexico.


JetBlue Airways Corporation is an American low-cost airline. Its main base is John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, with its main corporate office nearby. On February 14, 2007, winter snowstorms in the eastern United States temporarily halted JetBlue’s operations. While most other airlines cancelled their flights ahead of time, JetBlue did not take such action, thinking that the weather would clear and they would then have the advantage, and so they filled their planes waiting for takeoff. As a result, a full flight from JFK to Cancun, Mexico, was delayed on the ramp for nine hours, while at least nine other flights were stranded on the runways with passengers onboard for over six hours. After a day or two, most airlines were back up and running, but it took JetBlue nearly a week to get back on schedule. The company’s CEO, David Neeleman, commented that a major issue was the poor communication system: employees did not know how to handle such an emergency, and the right people were not in place to keep passengers and employees informed. Moreover, there were not enough customer service representatives to help reschedule flights. On February 19, Neeleman issued a public apology, saying he was “humiliated and mortified” at the situation and that the company would soon introduce a Customer Bill of Rights to compensate customers for future events of this nature.

Most of the incidents we studied did include an account statement, one that was a mix of apology and explanation and rarely an excuse. (All four were made by men, and we could not locate a “balanced” set of apologies by women to use as illustrations here.) We now examine these four specific apologies along the component dimensions and moderators previously identified (an edited text of each apology is provided in an Appendix to this chapter). While the results in Table 5-2 present our summary evaluation of how each apology met the criteria, our narrative only points to selected cases that are most pronounced and exemplary.

  1. 1. Expression of Regret for the Offense. An expression of regret for the offense was the only component included in every statement, despite the fact that some statements were more apology than explanation. Moreover, this was usually the most direct portion of the statement: whereas some of the other components were expressed indirectly, the apology—the “I’m sorry”—was always direct. Madoff apologizes twice in his statement, first saying that he is “deeply sorry and ashamed” of his behavior, and then stating that he “cannot adequately express how sorry [he is] for what [he has] done.” BP’s Chief (p.110) Executive Tony Hayward also uses the words “deeply sorry,” referring to the explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting oil spill. He also “deeply regret[s]” that the incident “profoundly impacted lives and caused turmoil,” and later repeats, very directly, “I am so sorry.” JetBlue’s expression of regret is no different than the others: they begin their letter to customers with the words, “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.” They go on to repeat, “Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration, and inconvenience that you, your family, friends, and colleagues experienced.” While these first three statements had clear, direct expressions of regret, Woods’ apology sounds the most heartfelt, perhaps because of the number of times he apologizes throughout the entire length of his statement and because of the individual attention he gives different individuals and groups. He begins his formal statement by saying “to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in” and then goes on to make individual comments to his wife, to the people listening to his formal statement, to the people involved in his foundation, and to the parents who believe him to be a role model. However, many listening to the frequently televised replay of this apology discounted the expression because Woods actively restrained emotional expression during the presentation.

  2. 2. Acknowledgement of Responsibility. Acknowledgements of responsibility in the statements are present, but they are not quite as direct and clear in all the statements as were the expressions of regret. To begin, Madoff uses the clearest language in his acknowledgement of responsibility, claiming that he “accept[s] responsibility for [his] crimes by pleading guilty.” He maintains that he “knew what [he] was doing was wrong, indeed criminal,” and admits his awareness that many people around him were hurt by his actions. Just as he was reiterative in his expression of regret, Woods repeatedly acknowledges his mistakes and takes responsibility for his actions. He is quick to make the comment that “now every one of you has good reason to be critical of me.” He candidly states, “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated,” and he confesses that his behavior was not acceptable and that he “[doesn’t] get to play by different rules.” BP and JetBlue’s acknowledgements of responsibility are a bit more indirect. BP’s Tony Hayward does not openly concede responsibility for the oil spill, although he does admit that the spill was the result of the explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon. Instead of a direct acknowledgement, he comments that “none of us yet knows why it happened.” In his conclusion, Hayward does guarantee his pledge “as leader of BP that [the company] will not rest until [it] stop[s] this well, mitigate[s] the environmental impact of the spill, and address[es] economic claims in a responsible manner.” JetBlue’s acknowledgement of responsibility is the most indirect, with a simple statement that the company “know[s] it failed to deliver on [their] promise” during the poor weather and holiday weekend.

  3. 3. Declaration of Repentance. The declaration of repentance was the most difficult for violators, and while it did not appear directly in any statement, (p.111) allusions were made to it by some of the violators. Woods hinted at repentance by explaining how his apology to his wife may not come in the form of words but instead from his “behavior over time.” JetBlue, as expressed by the company’s founder and CEO, asserts that it is committed to its valued customers, and understands that the customer deserves better. BP’s declaration of repentance came in the form of explaining two lessons the company learned from the experience of the oil spill: the first lesson was that they need to better prepare for a sub-sea disaster, and the second lesson was that they now know they need to improve their safety technology and culture. Finally, Madoff did not make any declaration of repentance, direct or indirect. Perhaps this silence is because he knows such a declaration would be obsolete since the courts will make sure he does not have an opportunity to repeat his offense. With this said, Madoff could have made a statement that he would not engage in such fraudulent behavior even if he had the opportunity to do so again, but he does not.

  4. 4. Offer of Repair. Similar to the declaration of repentance, Madoff does not make an offer of repair, possibly because he knows he has no way of repaying the money he lost. Woods, BP, and JetBlue all explain in varying degrees of detail the steps they are taking to “make things right.” Woods is clear that he seeks to keep issues of repair between him and his wife, but he does discuss two actions he is taking to deal with his problem: undergoing inpatient therapy for sex addiction and turning back to his Buddhist religion. He mentions how “Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security,” and that he can learn from his religion to “stop following every impulse and to learn restraint.” BP’s offer of repair is quite lengthy, as the Chief Executive, Tony Hayward, explains that the steps the company is taking to repair trust include (a) stopping the oil spill, (b) cleaning up the oil spill, (c) minimizing the impact the oil spill is having on the environment and the economy, (d) engaging volunteers, and (e) investigating what occurred to cause the oil spill. Hayward expands on how the company was working with the Unified Command (the group responsible for cleanup). Moreover, several steps were being taken to apply technology to stop the spill. As of the date of the statement, BP had spent $1.5 billion in cleanup efforts, had made another $175 million available to states affected by the oil spill, and had set aside an additional $70 million to assist the states “in tourism promotion efforts.” The company had also been supporting volunteers who wanted to help in the cleanup. Turning to our last statement, JetBlue states how it was “taking immediate corrective steps to regain [customer] confidence.” Just days after the incident, the company explained that they were “putting a comprehensive plan in place to provide better and more timely information” to customers.

  5. 5. Explanation of Why the Violation Occurred. Violators were fairly open about explaining why they thought the violation occurred, with JetBlue being the one violator whose explanation was brief and vague. Both Madoff and BP offered lengthy, detailed accounts of why the violation occurred. Madoff’s statement makes it clear that its purpose is to “explain the means by which (p.112) [he] carried out and concealed [his] fraud.” He then launches into a 12-paragraph historical account of his fraudulent behavior in great detail. BP’s Tony Hayward spends a good deal of time in his statement explaining what the company knew about the day the oil spill occurred. He even states directly that it is his “responsibility to the American people to do [his] best to explain.” Woods’ explanation of why the violation occurred was that he believed he “could get away with whatever [he] wanted to,” that he thought he “had worked hard [his] entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around [him],” that he felt “entitled,” and finally, that money and fame made it easy for him to be unfaithful. JetBlue did not explain why the violation occurred, save for a few comments about severe winter ice storms and a holiday weekend.

  6. 6. Request for Forgiveness. This is lacking in most apologies, with Woods being the only violator being reviewed here who made a clear, direct request for forgiveness at the end of his statement: “I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.” JetBlue almost implies a request for forgiveness by concluding its statement with “Nothing is more important than regaining [the customer’s] trust and all of us here hope [the customer] will give [us] the opportunity to once again welcome [the customer] onboard.” While Madoff does not ask for forgiveness, he does conclude his statement with the following: “I hope I have conveyed with some particularity in my own words, the crimes I committed and the means by which I committed them.” This is hardly a plea for absolution, but it does express his hopes that he is understood. Finally, BP does not request forgiveness in any way.

  7. 7. Nature of the Trust Breach and Timing of the Repair Communication. Recall that we wanted to include “nature of the trust breach” as a moderator because different kinds of breaches may require different kinds of trust repair statements. More specifically, past research has argued that when competency-based trust was broken, an apology was the better communication, but when integrity-based trust was broken, denial was more effective at repairing trust (Ferrin, Bligh, & Kohles, 2007). Looking to our statements, BP and JetBlue’s violations were competency-based while Woods’ and Madoff’s violations were integrity-based. It is interesting to note that these latter two are also the two whose repair statement was communication that occurred only after being “caught.” Perhaps when they were approached prior to having their violation discovered, they did indeed deny their actions. Once they were caught, however, they both produced fairly good apologies, especially Woods, whose apology was emotional and heartfelt (although critics disagree). BP and JetBlue’s statements were made just after the violation, eight weeks and a few days, respectively, to be more specific. Neither company attempted to deny the violation, probably because of the overwhelming amount of evidence that made the truth impossible to refute.

  8. 8. Type of Repair Communication. Finally, Woods and JetBlue approached their statement with more apology, while BP and Madoff used more explanation. This contrast may be due to at least two causal factors. First, the basic trust violations committed by BP and Madoff are far more complex in their (p.113) causal dynamics; BP did not yet know all the complex causes and implications of the well explosion, and the details of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme (who knew what, when, how long it had persisted, number of clients involved) were yet to be disclosed. Second, in both of these cases, significant legal actions would be pending, and it is likely that legal counsel advised BP and Madoff to NOT directly admit responsibility for the events for fear that such admissions might bias perceptions of guilt, enhance legal liability, and magnify the possible costs for repair and reparation. As a result, we might conclude that when the causes of the trust violation are complex to discover, when the trust violation has significant legal implications, and when the cost of reparations is likely to be high, we will be less likely to see apologies and more likely to see denials, complex (and perhaps tedious) explanations, and other forms of accounts.

Discussion and Implications

There are a number of implications we want to draw from this analysis, both to help subsequent analysis of “live” apologies as well as to direct future research in this area.

First, as we noted, the examples presented are clearly a limited set. We selected a few examples to represent both individual and corporate accounts and different types of trust violations. To test the rigor and completeness of our framework, we need to map and dissect a larger population of examples, and to map them against established criteria for determining “effectiveness.” We will say more about the challenges of determining effectiveness later in this discussion, but it is clear that a larger sample of apologies—from public and private sectors, and at the individual and organizational levels—needs to be analyzed to affirm the robustness of our approach.

Second, while our framework of evaluation criteria points to what we feel to be some of the most important considerations in structuring an apology, the framework is still not complete. In addition to the structural text of an apology, there are many other important considerations to be studied when evaluating the short-term and long-term effectiveness of an apology. For example, BP outlined numerous steps they were taking to cap the well, clean up the already spilled oil, and pay reparations for damage already done. In addition, they were looking forward to the future and how they could improve their company by learning from the horrible experience. After these statements were made, it remains to be seen whether BP actually carried through with everything they outlined in their statement, particularly in light of public statements made by the CEO that he was impatient with having to deal with the crisis. Alternatively, examine JetBlue as another example. Instead of simply posting a letter of apology on their website, the airline company also created a YouTube video that went into a bit more detail about the incident and outlined ways in which the company was learning from its mistakes so that when poor weather struck again, the company would be ready. This medium of communication reached out to a younger, computer-friendly generation who makes up a significant portion of JetBlue’s customers. The company also created a (p.114) Customer Bill of Rights that they explain in their statement as their “official commitment to [the customer] of how [they] will handle operational interruptions going forward.” Finally, look at the actions of Woods after his violation was discovered. While Woods does verbally take responsibility for his indiscretions, he also blames his actions on an addiction, which is an external attribution. Thus, elements such as attributions of causality for the trust breach, explicitness of the plan and actual follow-through with actions for trust repair, and the communication medium (particularly text vs. video, in which more emotional message content is available) can make a difference in the effectiveness of an apology. We can also conclude from these examples that the framework elements of an apology that we proposed may be necessary, but certainly not sufficient, for it to be deemed “effective,” both at the time of issuance and over the long term. As additional empirical work is done, the rigor of our framework can be enhanced to determine what is necessary and sufficient in the structure of an apology.

Third, all of the trust-breaking incidents, and statements regarding them, were very different, and the violators seemed to approach their statements with their own unique, personal style. Take the example of David Letterman, the late-night talk-show host who admitted in October 2009 to having affairs with several “Late Show” employees over a period of several years. Letterman made a public statement at the start of one of his programs regarding the affairs. His statement was short and to the point, and the delivery was filled with his traditional dry humor. Without being disrespectful, Letterman was able to keep his audience laughing as he explained the violation and then (very, very) briefly apologized to his wife. Very few people would be able to succeed with such an apology, but Letterman did, and viewers, critics, and even television executives must have thought he handled the issue well (and authentically!), as evidenced by many public comments of support and continued positive ratings for the show. Thus, how an individual or organization chooses to “frame” the apology—context, setting, tone, etc.—can also have a dramatic impact on its perceived effectiveness, and this framing can have a strong impact on its acceptance. Numerous studies in organizational behavior and communication (see DeWulf et al., 2009, for one review) have shown how the framing of a message can significantly affect its impact and effectiveness. Aspects of framing include the exact words that are used, how the apology is embedded in other communication (the Letterman example), how emotional or “sterile” the message is, the medium in which the apology is conveyed (written vs. spoken, face to face vs. conveyed through electronic formats), how the medium itself reframes the message (excerpting, commentary, setup, etc.), and a variety of other factors. Framing dynamics can encompass a number of the key factors we examined in our analytical framework, and as we have noted, this list may be an effective start but is clearly not complete.

More broadly, there are major research challenges to studying the effectiveness of any efforts to repair trust (see Dirks et al., 2009). First, as we have noted, trust has cognitive, affective, and behavioral components, and trust violations are likely to affect all three components. As a result, effective trust repair needs to address all affected components, but it is not clear whether some components deserve greater attention, and in what manner. Second, studies of various forms of trust repair (p.115) have seldom measured pre-violation levels of trust, trust levels after the violation, and trust levels following the repair effort. While measuring trust levels at these three different points will help to determine the effectiveness of various trust-repair treatments, at the same time researchers must find effective ways to take multiple time-series trust calibrations without compounding measurement error. Finally, researchers must address the question of what it means to “repair” or “restore” trust. Must trust be “restored” to pre-violation levels for it to be deemed effective? Is it sufficient to simply witness an increase in trust as a result of the repair effort, even if “full” restoration does not occur? And finally, is “damaged” trust substantively or phenomenologically different from undamaged trust? Many would argue (e.g., Lewicki, McAllister, & Bies, 1998) that damaged trust will now include significant elements of distrust, and hence that subsequent trust in that relationship context will be more complex than simple, naïve, and “pure” trust. Significant theoretical and empirical work remains to be done in this arena.


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Tomlinson, E. C., & Mayer, R. C. (2009). The role of causal attribution dimensions in trust repair. Academy of Management Review, 34(1), 85–104.

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. (2010, June 17). Tony Hayward, Chief Executive, BP plc., Prepared Remarks. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2011, from http://www.cspan.org/pdf/061610_Hayward_Prepared_Testimony.pdf

Woods, T. (2010, Feb. 19). Transcript: Tiger’s public statement. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2011, from http://web.tigerwoods.com/news/article/201002198096934/news/


Appendix 5-1

Tiger Woods Apology Text

Tiger Woods

February 19, 2010

Good morning, and thank you for joining me. Many of you in this room are my friends. Many of you in this room know me. Many of you have cheered for me or you’ve worked with me or you’ve supported me.

Now every one of you has good reason to be critical of me. I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.

I know people want to find out how I could be so selfish and so foolish. People want to know how I could have done these things to my wife, Elin, and to my children. And while I have always tried to be a private person, there are some things I want to say.

Elin and I have started the process of discussing the damage caused by my behavior. As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words; it will come from my behavior over time. We have a lot to discuss; however, what we say to each other will remain between the two of us.

I am also aware of the pain my behavior has caused to those of you in this room. I have let you down, and I have let down my fans. For many of you, especially my friends, my behavior has been a personal disappointment. To those of you who work for me, I have let you down personally and professionally. My behavior has caused considerable worry to my business partners.

(p.118) To everyone involved in my foundation, including my staff, board of directors, sponsors and most importantly, the young students we reach, our work is more important than ever. Thirteen years ago, my dad and I envisioned helping young people achieve their dreams through education. This work remains unchanged and will continue to grow. From the Learning Center students in Southern California to the Earl Woods scholars in Washington, DC, millions of kids have changed their lives, and I am dedicated to making sure that continues.

But still, I know I have bitterly disappointed all of you. I have made you question who I am and how I could have done the things I did. I am embarrassed that I have put you in this position.

For all that I have done, I am so sorry.

I have a lot to atone for, but there is one issue I really want to discuss. Some people have speculated that Elin somehow hurt or attacked me on Thanksgiving night. It angers me that people would fabricate a story like that. Elin never hit me that night or any other night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage, ever. Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal. Elin deserves praise, not blame.

The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.

I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them.

I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife’s family, my friends, my foundation and kids all around the world who admired me.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I’ve done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It’s now up to me to make amends and that starts by never repeating the mistakes I’ve made. It’s up to me to start living a life of integrity.

I once heard, and I believe it’s true, it’s not what you achieve in life that matters; it’s what you overcome. Achievements on the golf course are only part of setting an example. Character and decency are what really count.

Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.

It’s hard to admit that I need help, but I do. For 45 days from the end of December to early February, I was in inpatient therapy receiving guidance for the issues I’m facing. I have a long way to go. But I’ve taken my first steps in the right direction.

As I proceed, I understand people have questions. I understand the press wants to ask me for the details and the times I was unfaithful. I understand people want to know whether Elin and I will remain together. Please know that as far as I’m concerned, every one of these questions and answers is a matter between Elin and me. These are issues between a husband and a wife.

(p.119) Some people have made up things that never happened. They said I used performance-enhancing drugs. This is completely and utterly false. Some have written things about my family. Despite the damage I have done, I still believe it is right to shield my family from the public spotlight. They did not do these things; I did.

I have always tried to maintain a private space for my wife and children. They have been kept separate from my sponsors, my commercial endorsements. […] Whatever my wrongdoings, for the sake of my family, please leave my wife and kids alone.

I recognize I have brought this on myself, and I know above all I am the one who needs to change. I owe it to my family to become a better person. I owe it to those closest to me to become a better man. That’s where my focus will be.

I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught.

As I move forward, I will continue to receive help because I’ve learned that’s how people really do change. Starting tomorrow, I will leave for more treatment and more therapy. I would like to thank my friends at Accenture and the players in the field this week for understanding why I’m making these remarks today.

In therapy, I’ve learned the importance of looking at my spiritual life and keeping in balance with my professional life. I need to regain my balance and be centered so I can save the things that are most important to me—my marriage and my children.

That also means relying on others for help. I’ve learned to seek support from my peers in therapy, and I hope someday to return that support to others who are seeking help. I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don’t know when that day will be.


Finally, there are many people in this room, and there are many people at home who believed in me. Today, I want to ask for your help. I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.

Thank you.

Source: http://web.tigerwoods.com/news/article/201002198096934/news/

Appendix 5-2

Bernard Madoff Apology Text

Bernard Madoff

March 12, 2009

Your Honor, for many years up until my arrest on Dec. 11, 2008, I operated a Ponzi scheme through the investment advisory side of my business, Bernard L. Madoff (p.120) Securities LLC, which was located here in Manhattan, New York, at 885 Third Avenue. I am actually grateful for this first opportunity to publicly speak about my crimes, for which I am so deeply sorry and ashamed. As I engaged in my fraud, I knew what I was doing was wrong, indeed criminal. When I began the Ponzi scheme I believed it would end shortly and I would be able to extricate myself and my clients from the scheme. However, this proved difficult, and ultimately impossible, and as the years went by I realized that my arrest and this day would inevitably come. I am painfully aware that I have deeply hurt many, many people, including the members of my family, my closest friends, business associates, and the thousands of clients who gave me their money. I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done. I am here today to accept responsibility for my crimes by pleading guilty and, with this plea allocution, explain the means by which I carried out and concealed my fraud.

The essence of my scheme was that I represented to clients and prospective clients who wished to open investment advisory and individual trading accounts with me that I would invest their money in shares of common stock, options, and other securities of large well-known corporations, and upon request, would return to them their profits and principal.


Your Honor, I hope I have conveyed with some particularity in my own words, the crimes I committed and the means by which I committed them. Thank you.

Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101816470

Appendix 5-3

British Petroleum Apology Text

While BP executives made short, single-sentence remarks about the oil spill in various press conferences, we are using the following statement made to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations as their formal statement for analysis.

Tony Hayward, Chief Executive

June 17, 2010

Chairman Stupak, Ranking Member Burgess, members of the Subcommittee. I am Tony Hayward, Chief Executive of BP plc.

The explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico never should have happened—and I am deeply sorry that they did. None of us yet knows why it happened. But whatever the cause, we at BP will do what we can to make certain that an incident like this does not happen again.

Since April 20, I have spent a great deal of my time in the Gulf Coast region and in the incident command center in Houston, and let there be no mistake—I understand how serious this situation is. This is a tragedy: people lost their lives; others (p.121) were injured; and the Gulf Coast environment and communities are suffering. This is unacceptable, I understand that, and let me be very clear: I fully grasp the terrible reality of the situation.

When I learned that eleven men had lost their lives in the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon, I was personally devastated. Three weeks ago, I attended a memorial service for those men, and it was a shattering moment. I want to offer my sincere condolences to their friends and families—I can only imagine their sorrow.

My sadness has only grown as the disaster continues. I want to speak directly to the people who live and work in the Gulf region: I know that this incident has profoundly impacted lives and caused turmoil, and I deeply regret that. Indeed, this is personal for us at BP. Many of our 23,000 U.S. employees live and work in the Gulf Coast region. For decades, the people of the Gulf Coast states have extended their hospitality to us and to the companies like Arco and Amoco that are now part of BP. We have always strived to be a good neighbor. We have worked to hire employees and contractors, and to buy many of our supplies, locally.

I want to acknowledge the questions that you and the public are rightly asking. How could this happen? How damaging is the spill to the environment? Why is it taking so long to stop the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf?

And questions are being asked about energy policy more broadly: Can we as a society explore for oil and gas in safer and more reliable ways? What is the appropriate regulatory framework for the industry?

We don’t yet have answers to all these important questions. But I hear the concerns, fears, frustrations—and anger—being voiced across the country. I understand it, and I know that these sentiments will continue until the leak is stopped, and until we prove through our actions that we will do the right thing. Our actions will mean more than words, and we know that, in the end, we will be judged by the quality of our response. Until this happens, no words will be satisfying.

Nonetheless, I am here today because I have a responsibility to the American people to do my best to explain what BP has done, is doing, and will do in the future to respond to this terrible incident. And while we can’t undo these tragic events, I give you my word that we will do the right thing. We will not rest until the well is under control, and we will meet all our obligations to clean up the spill and address its environmental and economic impacts. From the moment I learned of the explosion and fire, I committed the global resources of BP to the response efforts. To be sure, neither I nor the company is perfect. But we are unwavering in our commitment to fulfill all our responsibilities. We are a strong company, and nothing is being spared. We are going to do everything in our power to address fully the economic and environmental consequences of this spill and to ensure that we use the lessons learned from this incident to make energy exploration and production safer and more reliable for everyone.

A Coordinated Effort

We have been committed to responding to these tragic events and coordinating with the federal government from the beginning. On April 21, the Administration (p.122) began holding meetings and regular calls with me and other members of BP’s leadership to discuss BP’s response effort, as well as federal oversight and support.

Even before the Deepwater Horizon sank on the morning of April 22, a Unified Command structure was established, as provided by federal regulations. […]

As the scope of the unfolding disaster became more apparent, we reached out to additional scientists and engineers from our partners and competitors in the energy industry, as well as engineering firms, academia, government and the military. Among the resources that have been made available:

  • Drilling and technical experts who are helping determine solutions to stopping the spill and mitigating its impact, including specialists in the areas of subsea wells, environmental science and emergency response;

  • Technical advice on blowout preventers, dispersant application, well construction and containment options;

  • Additional facilities to serve as staging areas for equipment and responders, more remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for deep underwater work, barges, support vessels and additional aircraft, as well as training and working space for the Unified Command.


What We Are Doing

Our efforts in response to this incident are focused on two critical goals:

  • Successfully stopping the flow of oil; and

  • Minimizing the environmental and economic impacts from the oil spill.

These are without a doubt complex and challenging tasks. While we have had to overcome hurdles, we are doing everything we can to respond as quickly and effectively as we can.

From the beginning, we have been committed to a transparent response. We know the public wants as much information as possible about this unprecedented event, and we continue to do our best to provide it so the public can understand the incident and its impacts.

Subsea Efforts to Secure the Well

Our first priority is to stop the flow of oil and secure the well. We are currently drilling two relief wells, which we believe represents the ultimate solution to stopping the flow of oil and gas from the well. The first relief well is currently at a depth of 15,226 feet, and the second relief well is currently at 9,778 feet.

Separately, the goal has been to minimize or stop the flow of oil and gas before the relief wells are completed. […]

Although we were not able to stop the well at the seabed, our efforts to contain the oil and gas have been more successful. […]

On Wednesday morning, we were in the early stages of increasing oil and gas collection through our next containment step, the Q4000 Direct Connect. It utilizes (p.123) much of the subsea “top kill” equipment and takes oil directly from the failed BOP to the Q4000 on the surface. We expect to optimize collection over the next few days to levels well above what was previously accomplished.

It is important to keep in mind that these techniques have never before been attempted 5,000 feet under water. […]

We continue to do more to increase our operational flexibility and collection capability. This includes securing vessels with greater processing and storage capacity, adding shuttle tankers for transporting oil, procuring spares of critical equipment, installing permanent riser systems, and replacing the containment cap with a more secure system. We will not rest with our containment efforts until the well is permanently killed. I know it feels like this all takes a long time but we are compressing operations that normally take months into days.


Cleanup Efforts

BP is a “responsible party” under the Oil Pollution Act. This means that federal law requires BP, as one of the working interest owners of Mississippi Canyon 252, to pay to clean up the spill and to compensate for the economic and environmental impacts of the spill. Let me be clear: BP has accepted this responsibility and will fulfill this obligation. We have spent nearly $1.5 billion so far, and we will not stop until the job is done.

It is important to understand that this “responsible party” designation is distinct from an assessment of legal liability for the actions that led to the spill. Investigations into the causes of the incident are ongoing, and issues of liability will be sorted out separately when the facts are clear and all the evidence is available. The focus now is on ensuring that cleanup, and compensation for those harmed by the spill, are carried out as quickly as possible.

Our cleanup efforts are focused on two fronts: in the open water and at the shoreline. […]

As part of our response efforts, over 2,000 “Vessels of Opportunity,” independent vessel owners throughout the Gulf Coast, are using their boats in a variety of oil recovery activities, including towing and deploying booms, supporting skimming and burn operations, finding and recovering tar balls and transporting general supplies and personnel.

Also on the open water, with the Coast Guard’s approval, we are attacking the spill area with EPA-approved biodegradable dispersants, which are being applied from both planes and boats.

Near the shoreline, we are implementing oil spill response contingency plans to protect sensitive areas. According to the Coast Guard, the result is the most massive shoreline protection effort ever mounted.

To support rapid response, we have made available a total of $175 million to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, as well as $70 million to assist these states in tourism promotion efforts. To date, we have deployed over 2.5 million feet of containment boom and over 3.0 million feet of sorbent boom in an effort to contain the spill and protect the coastal shoreline. The Department of (p.124) Defense is helping to airlift boom to wherever it is currently needed across the Gulf coast.

Highly mobile, shallow draft skimmers are also staged along the coast ready to attack the oil where it approaches the shoreline.

Wildlife cleanup stations have been mobilized, and pre-impact baseline assessment and beach cleanup has been completed in many locations. Shoreline cleanup assessment teams (SCAT) are being deployed to affected areas to assess the type and quantity of oiling, so the most effective cleaning strategies can be rapidly applied.

Our largest single project commitment to date is to fund the $360 million cost of six berms in the Louisiana barrier islands project. On June 7, we announced that we will make an immediate payment of $60 million to the state of Louisiana to allow the state to begin work on the project immediately. BP will make five additional $60 million payments when the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana certifies that the project has satisfied 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and then 100% completion milestones. The entire $360 million will be funded by the completion of the project.

In addition, BP is committing up to $500 million to an open research program studying the impact of the Deepwater Horizon incident, and the associated response, on the marine and shoreline environment of the Gulf of Mexico. The program will investigate the impacts of the oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and coastal States.

Communication, Community Outreach, and Engaging Volunteers

We are also working hard to keep the public and government officials around the country informed of what is happening. We are regularly briefing federal, state, and local officials, and we are holding town hall sessions to keep affected communities informed.

BP is also supporting volunteer efforts related to shoreline cleanup. […]


There are twenty-five BP community-outreach sites engaging, training, and preparing volunteers in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. A phone line has also been established for potential volunteers to register their interest in assisting the response effort.

Coping with Economic Impacts

We recognize that beyond the environmental impacts there are also economic impacts on many of the people who rely on the Gulf for their livelihood. BP will pay all necessary cleanup costs and all legitimate claims for other losses and damages caused by the spill.

The BP claims process is integral to our commitment to do the right thing. To date, BP has already paid out over $90 million on the more than 56,000 claims that have been submitted. While the initial focus has been on individuals, we are now (p.125) moving funds on an expedited basis to business owners with nearly $16 million to be paid out this week to businesses alone.

To ensure the process is as fair and transparent as possible, an independent mediator will be appointed to provide an independent judgment in cases in which BP and a claimant are in disagreement. The mediator will be fully independent of BP, and claimants who disagree with the mediator’s judgment will retain all rights under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 either to seek reimbursement from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund or to file a claim in court.

Thirty-two walk-in claims offices are open in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. Our call center is operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We also have in place an on-line claims filing system. Nearly 700 people are assigned to handle the claims, including almost 600 experienced claims adjusters working in the impacted communities. Claim forms can be filled out in English, Spanish or Vietnamese, and Spanish and Vietnamese translators are available in many offices.

We are striving to be efficient and fair and we look for guidance to the established laws, regulations and other information provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, which oversees the process.

We will continue adding people, offices and resources as necessary.

Investigating What Happened

The question we all want answered is “What caused this tragic accident”? A full answer to this and other questions must await the outcome of multiple investigations now underway, including a joint investigation by the Departments of Homeland Security and Interior (Marine Board) and an internal investigation by BP itself.


[…]While the team’s work is not done, it appears that there were multiple control mechanisms—procedures and equipment—in place that should have prevented this accident or reduced the impact of the spill. The investigation is focused on the following seven mechanisms:

  1. 1. The cement that seals the reservoir from the well;

  2. 2. The casing system, which seals the well bore;

  3. 3. The pressure tests to confirm the well is sealed;

  4. 4. The execution of procedures to detect and control hydrocarbons in the well, including the use of the blowout preventer (BOP) and the maintenance of that BOP;

  5. 5. The BOP Emergency Disconnect System, which can be activated by pushing a button at multiple locations on the rig;

  6. 6. The automatic closure of the BOP after its connection is lost with the rig; and;

  7. 7. Features in the BOP to allow ROVs to close the BOP and thereby seal the well at the seabed after a blowout.

I understand people want a simple answer about why this happened and who is to blame. The truth, however, is that this is a complex accident, caused by an (p.126) unprecedented combination of failures. A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early to understand the cause. There is still extensive work to do.

Lessons Learned

There are events that occurred on April 20 that were not foreseen by me or BP, but which we need to address in the future as lessons learned from this terrible tragedy. With ongoing investigations into the incident and continuing efforts to secure the well, we are in the early stages of trying to learn from this incident. But, as I see it, there are already lessons to be learned, and I wanted to share two of them with you today.

Lesson 1: Based on the events of April 20 and thereafter, we need to be better prepared for a subsea disaster. It is clear that our industry needs to significantly improve our ability to quickly address deep-sea accidents of this type and magnitude.

The industry has made significant strides in preparedness measures before, and we will do so again. Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the industry recognized the need to enhance its capacity to address oil spills. The result was the MSRC, an independent, nonprofit company which maintains a significant inventory of vessels, equipment and trained personnel, complemented by a large contractor work force. The work of MSRC and other contractors has been central to the surface spill response efforts in the Gulf.

But based on the events of April 20 and thereafter, it is clear that this is not enough. We now need to develop a similar capability for dealing with large undersea spills. We have no doubt that others in the industry will join us in efforts to develop this capability.

Lesson 2: Based on what happened on April 20, we now know we need better safety technology. We in the industry have long relied on the blowout preventer as the principal piece of safety equipment. Yet, on this occasion it apparently failed, with disastrous consequences. We must use this incident as a case study to avoid a similar failure in the future.

Since the April 20 explosion and fire, BP has been carefully evaluating the subsea blowout preventers used in all our drilling operations worldwide, including the testing and maintenance procedures of the drilling contractors using the devices. We will participate in industry-wide efforts to improve the safety and reliability of subsea blowout preventers and deep water drilling practices. And we will work closely with other interested parties as we do so.


We understand the seriousness of the situation. We know the world is watching us. No one will forget the 11 men who lost their lives in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon. We hear and understand the concerns, frustrations, and fears that have been and will continue to be voiced. I understand that only actions and results, (p.127) and not mere words, ultimately can give you the confidence you seek. We will be, and deserve to be, judged by our response.

I give my pledge as leader of BP that we will not rest until we stop this well, mitigate the environmental impact of the spill, and address economic claims in a responsible manner. No resource available to this company will be spared. We and the entire industry will learn from this terrible event and emerge from it stronger, smarter, and safer.

Source: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. (June 17, 2010). Tony Hayward, Chief Executive, BP plc., Prepared Remarks. Retrieved Jan. 16, 2011, from http://www.cspan.org/pdf/061610_Hayward_Prepared_Testimony.pdf

Appendix 5-4

JetBlue Apology Text

David Neeleman, Founder and CEO

February 19, 2010

We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.

Last week was the worst operational week in JetBlue’s seven year history. Many of you were either stranded, delayed or had flights cancelled following the severe winter ice storm in the Northeast. The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly, disrupted the movement of JetBlue’s pilot and inflight crewmembers who were depending on those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. With the busy President’s Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and hold times at 1-800-JETBLUE were unusually long or not even available, further hindering our recovery efforts.

Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration, and inconvenience that you, your family, friends, and colleagues experienced. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel, and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.

We are committed to you, our valued customers, and are taking immediate corrective steps to regain your confidence in us. We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place to provide better and more timely information to you, more tools and resources for our crewmembers and improved procedures for handling operational difficulties. Most importantly, we have published the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights—our official commitment to you of how we will handle operational interruptions going forward—including details of compensation. We invite you to learn more at jetblue.com/promise.

(p.128) You deserved better—a lot better—from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to once again welcome you onboard and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.

Source: http://www.jetblue.com/about/ourcompany/apology/index.html