Apology Not Required
Much has been written about the role of apology in mediation. The positive impact of a sincere, heart felt apology is well described in the literature. Every experienced mediator has witnessed it. When delivered well by the right person, an apology can cause healing, improve communication, reduce tension or all three. A “real” apology can provide the plaintiff a satisfaction money can’t buy; and a meaningful apology can save the defendant significant dollars. Despite these benefits, apologies are not often in the cards even where an apology is an important aspect of the plaintiff’s goals.
There are many reasons a defendant is unprepared to apologize - and thereby take advantage of the benefits an apology can bring. Defendant may well believe it acted properly. "Apologize to them?! They should apologize to us!" Perhaps defendant fears an apology will be taken as an admission of liability. Sometimes an apology is blocked by high emotion or a deep-seated sense of grievance. Whatever may be blocking a sincere expression, some parties can’t resist an insincere expression of remorse. The result is generally not pretty. Qualified apologies ("I'm sorry, but do you realize how this is effecting my reputation?”) or non-apologetic apologies ("I'm sorry you feel that way,") can easily exacerbate or irritate already sensitive emotions.
Where a sincere apology isn't in the cards, there may be another approach with similar impact: acknowledgement. Much less has been written on this subject, but I've seen it serve useful purposes for both sides. In an employment case, for example, the defendant may believe plaintiff's discharge was appropriate but acknowledge that the way she was terminated lacked the dignity due a long term employee or the respect warranted by company policy. In a commercial dispute, defendant may deny wrongdoing but acknowledge that it could have done a better job communicating its requirements to the seller. In a probate case, a sister may deny exercising undue influence on the drafting of mom's trust, but acknowledge that her brother did his part to help out during mom's long struggle with cancer.
We witness acknowledgement in the world of politics all the time. It is especially evident when someone - generally in the passive voice - acknowledges "mistakes were made."
In preparation for your next mediation, if there is not going to be an apology, you might consider searching for a way to recognize and acknowledge some hurt or error occurred.