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Detecting Deception in an Apology

ian.trudel@gmail.com
November, 30 t h 2009

This is an essay on Detecting Deception in an Apology


(DDinA) using statement analysis. The approach presented
in this essay aims to be accessible to the general public by
focusing on the basic elements of statement analysis and
provides the ability to be manually performed in a
reasonably short time with an acceptable appreciation of
the truthfulness and sincerity in an apology.

Rationale
Numerous compelling reasons may motivate an individual
or a group to know whether or not an apologetic person is
truthful and sincere. For example, the need for closure or
interest in reconciliation may be the driving force to know.
It may help a company to know if a troublesome employee
is truly sorry and will promptly remedy to the situation. It
may be an influential factor to lessen a punishment in the
Court of Law. Personal and professional relationships alike
will benefit from determining truthfulness in an apology
regardless of the reasons.

Approach, Tools and Techniques


The approach used in Detecting Deception in an Apology
(DDinA) is straightforward since it is based on fundamentals
of Statement Analysis [1] and its application on the
particulars peculiar to apologies [2] . This essay discusses
the principal differences characterizing the statement
analysis of apologetic statements.

DDinA is an effective approach to determine, within reason,


the truthfulness in an apology. Determining the sincerity in
an apology or an apologetic person is unfortunately proven
to be more challenging. DDinA nevertheless provides an
acceptable appreciation of the sincerity behind an apology.
Apologetic Statements
An apologetic statement should answer to the questions
listed in this subsection. The answers, or lack thereof, play
an important role in determining whether or not a
statement is complete and accurate. Statement analysis is
accordingly performed on each and every part of an
apology to apprehend deceptive words or wording.

• What events are you apologizing for?


(Accountability)
• What are the consequences of your actions?
(Acknowledgement)
• Who is responsible for the consequences?
(Taking Responsibility)
• Do you regret your actions [and how so]?
(Expressing Regrets)
• Do you wish to be forgiven? (Asking for
Forgiveness, optional)
• Do you promise that it won't happen again?
(Promise, optional)
• How will you to repair the situation?
(Restitution, optional)

Statement Analysis
Statement analysis related articles are listed in the
references section available below for those who are not
familiar with it. These references should serve as a starting
point, if you have no prior experience in statement
analysis, but are more than enough to assist you in
analyzing most apologies. Only few elements from these
articles are reiterated in this essay.

Statement analysis examines four components [3] :


• Parts of Speech (pronouns,
nouns, verbs)
• Extraneous Information (see
also [4] )
• Lack of Conviction (see also [4] )
• Balance of the Statement
Text Bridges
Text bridges [5] are particularly effective in detecting
deception in descriptions of events. The nature of an
apology is considerably different from, for example, an
incident report and only a small part of it can be considered
as a description of events (e.g. Accountability). The
presence of text bridges in other parts that do not describe
a flow of events may or may not be deceptive and it might
be difficult to identify what and why information is
concealed.

Previous correspondence may be helpful to establish a


baseline, a normal context without pressure and stress, to
determine how and when an apologetic person use certain
text bridges and decide whether or not they are in fact
used to conceal information.

Extraneous Information
Any information that does not answer to the questions as
defined in subsection “ Apologetic Statements ” is
considered extraneous [4] . A deceptive person might be
tempted to communicate a considerable amount of
extraneous information in order to divert the attention from
the important questions and thus reducing the
completeness of the apologetic statement.

Furthermore, a deceptive person may attempt to rationalize


his or her actions to diminish his or her responsibility in the
problematic situation, or even rationalize the actions of the
person he or she is apologizing to, for example, to obtain
apologies from this person or to later obtain favours of any
kind. It is a deceptive and manipulative practice.

The pronoun “I” is denoted to be used by truthful persons


in an incident report according to experienced investigators
because it is an indicator of commitment to what has been
written or said. This is normally valid in every part of an
apology but it should not undermine the fact that an
apology is about the person one apologizes to. Any
statement shifting the focus back to the apologetic person
in an attempt to rationalize his or her actions should be
considered suspicious. The use of the pronoun "I" in
extraneous information is likely to be deceptive.
Balance of an Apology
The balance of the statement is considerably different in an
apology from an incident report. An incident report
recollects events before, during and after the incident. This
constitutes only a part in an apology, see Anatomy of an
Apology [2] .

Accountability and acknowledgement are mandatory in


a truthful apology and they are the longest parts in a
balanced apology, but one may be longer than another. A
truthful statement in an incident report is chronological and
concise, and this is also true in accountability.

Taking responsibility and expressing regrets are also


mandatory and they are usually short and clear because
they lean on the introduction of the events and their
consequences.

Asking for forgiveness, a promise and a form of


restitution are not mandatory but they should be present
whenever it is meaningful. Asking for forgiveness and a
promise are usually short and clear. A form of restitution is
longer but usually not as long as accountability and/or
acknowledgement, that is, depending on the actions
necessary to repair the harm done.

Truthfulness versus Sincerity


These words seem to be alike but they are different. Being
truthful means to state the truth, which conforms with facts
or reality. Being sincere means to be free from hypocrisy.

An apologetic person can be truthful but insincere at the


same time. This happens when an apologetic person says or
writes all the right things at the right moment, entirely
based on the truth, in a complete and accurate manner but
don't mean any of it. An insincere apologetic person is
likely to cause harm all over again.

It is to be considered that the process of writing a truthful


apology may incline the person to become sincere, even
though it may not have been the initial intent, or otherwise
unwillingly leave clues that he or she is not.
While most people leak information that betrays their lies,
pathological liars and psychopaths are able to convey
others that they are truthful and sincere. According to
psychologist Robert D. Hare, an estimated of 1 in every 100
persons is a psychopath, but not every psychopath is
violent. The better the liar, the more time necessary to
uncover the lies.

There is however a correlation between truthfulness and


sincerity in such manner that an apologetic person cannot
be sincere and untruthful. An untruthful person is likely to
cause harm again, if only as a direct or indirect result of his
or her lies and deception.

Structure of an Apology
The structure of an apology is certainly important and
should be close to the structure described in an Anatomy
of an Apology [2] . In a perfect world, a truthful and sincere
apologetic person will apologize in a structured and concise
manner.

There are many reasons an apologetic person may not offer


a structured apology. A lack of organization is an indication
that the person is disorganized and confused. The confusion
may be caused by emotions, misunderstanding of any kind,
or deceptive intents. Deceptive intents may be revealed as
an attempt to confuse the person that he or she is
apologizing to and is most often found in extraneous
information. Confusion may create doubts that lead a
person to think the apologetic person is truthful and
sincere.

Deceptive intents can be ruled out only when every


mandatory part of an apology is present and are
determined to be truthful.

Qualifiers and Qualifying Statements


A qualifying statement is an attempt to reduce or discard a
message before, during or after it is transmitted.
Identifying qualifiers and qualifying statements is one of
the many powerful techniques used in statement analysis
to detect deception. People tend to use indirect deceptive
statements rather than direct denial, lies and deceptions.
There are two particular subtypes of qualifying statements
that are used more often in apologies. This is what I call the
disclaimer and the fine prints.

A disclaimer is statement that disclaims responsibility and


is most often found at the beginning of an apology.
Consider the opening phrase, "I strongly believe that what I
have done was somewhat justified, I am sorry." This phrase
contains three (3) qualifying statements in an attempt to
play down the apologetic person's responsibility in his or
her actions. The structure is also modified in such way to
avoid the word "but", in order to conceal the restrictions in
a given apology, since this sentence could be reversed as "I
am sorry but [...] ". It is a clear sign of deception and it
could translate as "What I am about to tell you is untrue...".

A fine print is a similar attempt by an apologetic person to


play down his or her responsibilities and is usually found at
the end of an apology, or sometimes throughout. Consider
the phrases, "Don't believe everything I say" and "Don't
take me too seriously." The deceptive person made an
attempt to make you believe that he or she did not mean
what he or she has previously said or done in the past that
caused a problematic situation. However, the deceptive
person further reveals, without his or her knowledge, that
he or she may also not mean his or her apology. It is clear
sign of deception and it could translate as "Oh, by the way,
I did not entirely mean what I've just said."

Non-Apology Apology
A non-apology apology is an apology that sounds like one
while in fact it is not. Consider the following apology, "I'm
sorry you were offended by my remarks." [8] A great and
simple apology can be rendered non-apologetic by a simple
word, as in the following example, "I'm sorry if you were
offended by my remarks."

Conditional statements should be taken for what they are: a


condition. An apologetic person may attempt to deceive
you with conditional statements by expecting you to fill-in-
the-blanks. A sincere apology is assertive and
unconditional.
A non-apology apology can be difficult to recognize when
an apology is long. An apologetic person is not apologizing
when he or she does not acknowledge the harm done
(Acknowledgement) and take responsibility for causing this
harm (Taking Responsibility). It is a deceptive practice and
a sign of insincerity.

Emotions in an Apology
Every human being experience emotions in a continuous
manner with more or less intensity. Emotions occur in a
given situation for many different reasons and the intensity
will vary according to the emotional involvement of a given
person. The situation might trigger emotions in an
apologetic person when it happens but it might also occur
while recollecting events or during the process of
formulating an apology in writing or in person.

Consequently, emotions can be detected in an apologetic


statement. They are found in unique sensory details,
inclusion of emotions, misspellings, hesitations, slip-of-the-
tongue, and so forth. The first and second are often reliable
indicators of veracity [6] . The others are most often
attributed to deception but are sometimes indicators of
strong emotions, and sometimes both at the same time.

A problematic situation involving a great deal of emotions


in the apologetic person should be reflected in his or her
apologetic statement. Strong emotions may provoke a
momentarily lost of control, especially during the refractory
period, which is of variable duration depending on the
person and previous history of similar emotional situations,
and may, for example, compel an apologetic person to
misspell a word. The lack of emotions in a highly sensitive
issue may be a sign of deception, as distancing language
would be, with the exception of, perhaps, business-to-
business issues that do not involve emotions.

Insults in an Apology
Believe it or not, some apologetic persons insult the person
they are apologizing to in their apologies. An apology is
about respect. Direct and indirect insults are a sign of
insincerity.
Private versus Public Apologies
An apologetic person should apologize publicly, and
possibly privately, when he or she has caused harm in
public and/or to the reputation of another person. This
include any harm caused in public, for example, the general
public, friends and acquaintances, business partners,
customers and so on. An apologetic person who has caused
harm under the public eyes who is apologizing privately
may be trying to save his or her own face. It is deceptive
and a sign of insincerity.

Likewise, it would be strange that a private matter, which


has no public consequences, receive a public apology from
an apologetic person. The apologetic person may attempt
to gain from a public apology in a private matter. It is also
deceptive and a sign of insincerity.

Identification and Signature


There is no such thing as an anonymous apology. A
signature has important ramifications in our modern
society. It is so important that it legally binds two persons
whenever apposed on a contract. An unsigned apology
means the apologetic person is not committed to his or her
apology. This is a sign of deception and the apology should
be considered untruthful and insincere.

Likewise, it should be clear who is sending the apology. For


example, an apology sent through email should be by the
usual channel that the apologetic person has used in the
past. Or, in some case, by an official mean. Any change in
behaviour is suspicious. An apologetic person alternating
from unofficial and official emails is most likely deceptive
and manipulative, especially when the apologies are sent
through an unofficial email address and requests through
an official one.

Benefits from an Apology


There are deceptive persons who are trying to gain from an
apology without being truthful and sincere. They may
convince that they are apologizing using different methods,
such as non-apology apology, unsigned apology, alternating
truthful and deceitful statements, alternating official and
unofficial communication means, and so on. They may also
hope to receive an apology from the person they are
allegedly apologizing to. It is a deceptive, manipulative and
insincere practice.

The benefits from an apology come with a truthful and


sincere apology.

Further Investigation
A letter of apology may not always be enough to determine
truthfulness and sincerity of the apologetic person. For this
reason, an investigation may bring forward important
elements to be considered. The most valuable assets in an
apology, aside the apology itself, are the apologetic person
and the person who receives the apology. Learning about
both parties may help to understand the underlying
dynamic of each person, individually and in their
relationship, and the intentions behind an apology.

Follow-up interviews may also give an opportunity to clear


up suspicions. Prepare questions based on the elements in
the apology that seemed deceitful and obtain subsequent
recordings or written statements whenever it is possible.
This is a particularly beneficial approach in complex
situations where the risks in reconciliation may have
important consequences.

Conclusion
The approach discussed in this essay is based on
fundamentals of statement analysis and describes the
differences particular to an apology. An acceptable
appreciation of the truthfulness and sincerity in an apology
can be determined using this approach in a relatively short
time. The benefits in knowing whether or not an apology is
truthful and sincere can encourage a speedy reconciliation
or avoid further harm.

References
[1] Valuable information on Statement Analysis, by
Mark McClish, at http://www.statementanalysis.com/ .
[2] Anatomy of An Apology, Ian Trudel, November,
th
25 , 2009, at http://mecenia.blogspot.com/2009/11/anatomy-
of-apology.html .
[3] “What Do Suspects' Words Really Reveal?”, Susan
H. Adams, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October,
1996.
[4] “Statement Analysis Field Examination Technique :
A Useful Investigative Tool”, Gene Klopf and Andrew
Tooke, FBI Enforcement Bulletin, April, 2003.
[5] “Text Bridges and the Micro-Action Interview”, John
R. Schafer, Ph.D., FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin,
January, 2008.
[6] “Are You Telling Me the Truth? Indicators of
Veracity in Written Statements”, Susan H. Adams,
Ph.D., John P. Jarvis, Ph.D., FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin, October, 2004.
[7] Qualifiers at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_modifier .
[8] Non-Apology Apology at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-apology_apology .