We’ve all been there: You’d rather sit at home in your underwear watching the early seasons of Game of Thrones than grab drinks with your buddies. You skip out on lunch plans with your colleague to get out of the office early. You dodge your neighbor’s not-so-subtle hints to go out for drinks. What do they all have in common? That weak, unapologetic ‘Sorry’ bringing up the rear.
Even if you are truly sorry, you might want to skip it.
That well-intended apology actually has the potential to make the person who’s being rejected feel even worse, according to a new study from Dartmouth College.
In the study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers found rejection with an added apology only adds insult to injury. It made people feel obligated to say they forgive the rejector, even though they didn’t want to.
It seems normal and harmless to throw an apology in with a rejection, and there are certain benefits to it, according to the study. For example, it’s been shown to make the rejector look better, and it can make the person being rejected feel less angry or aggressive. But if you’re trying not to hurt someone’s feelings, apologizing may backfire.
“Our research finds that despite their good intentions, people are going about it the wrong way,” lead study author Dr. Gili Freedman said in a press release.
Because social rejection is complicated and every situation is different, researchers don’t have any exact recommendations for what to say when you have to reject someone. But one thing’s for sure: Think about what you’re going to say beforehand, and maybe offer another date or plan to make it up to him/her.