Forgiving CEOs or Bosses For Transgressions
A new study revealed that persons with high social status are perceived as insincere when they ask for forgiveness or apology for a transgression.
Compared to people with lower status, persons in higher positions such as CEOs, are perceived less deserving of forgiveness.
These key findings were asserted by a team of international researchers from Netherlands and the United States.
Dr. Arik Cheshin of the University of Haifa, one of the authors of the study, said, “The high-status person is perceived as someone who can control their emotions more effectively and use them strategically, and accordingly they are perceived as less sincere. This perception applies to the world of business and work, and it’s reasonable to assume it applies to politicians, too. The more senior they are, the less authentic their emotions are perceived as being.”
The international study was spearheaded by Dr. Arik Cheshin from the Department of Human Services at the University of Haifa, together with an international team of researchers from the United States and the Netherlands, headed by Prof. Peter Kim of the University of Southern California.
The Study and Results
To probe how the power status of a person who has committed a transgression influences the ability to forgive them and their sincerity on asking for apology, the researchers conducted series of experiments involving hundreds of participants.
The first part of the experiment included showing varied pictures of an employee who was caught forging documents. Pictures showed different emotions of the employee that range from happiness to fear. On the second part, a video clip was shown to the participants depicting the same emotions but with different kinds of transgression. Some of the participants were told that the person involved was a junior employee, while others were told that it was the company’s CEO. But in one different experiment, the participants viewed a real incident in which the CEO of Toyota cried and apologized for failing to take action, even though he knew there was a problem with the brakes in various vehicles. Again, some of the participants thought that the person was a junior employee, while others were told that he was the CEO.
The result showed that in all three cases the CEO’s emotions were perceived as less sincere than those of the junior employee.
Next, the researchers examined a similar situation, and the participants were asked in terms of their willingness to forgive a junior or a senior employee with a true case of a CEO who insulted the company’s customers and then posted a video apology on YouTube. Again, some of the participants were told that he was a senior employee and others thought he was a junior worker.
Once again, it was found that the CEO was perceived as less sincere and less deserving of forgiveness.
Based on the key findings of the study, the researchers were able to formulate an explanation. The researchers found that participants perceived the CEO as someone who can control their emotions and even use them strategically.
Dr. Cheshin concluded, “Positions of power come with a disadvantage. The expression of emotions after a transgression are perceived as less authentic and less sincere when they are made by a high-status person. Accordingly, people are less inclined to forgive high-status people than those with lower status. We examined this issue in the context of the business world, but we can certainly apply the conclusions to other spheres, such as politics. The more senior the politician, the more we are inclined to assume that they are better at controlling their emotions and are using emotions strategically. Because we believe that they are trying to achieve something, we perceive them as less sincere in the same situation.”