Thursday, 22 May 2014



Sitting in on a couple’s dispute is a privilege reserved for a few.  During a course of a mediation session the Mediator is not only confronted with the issues in dispute from both parties’ individual perspectives but the Mediator also has the opportunity to witness whether the dispute unfolds towards resolution or deadlock.   

As a third party witness to dispute development and the various mechanisms people use to eradicate a dispute, one key factor that has never ceased to amaze me is how the offering of a sincere and timeous apology to a wronged party has the potential to not only stop the dispute in its tracks but also move the parties towards an expedited process of mutual healing.   

Random and insincere apologies understandably exacerbate a dispute causing positions to be further entrenched thereby moving the dispute closer towards deadlock. The unfortunate reality hereof is that entrenched positions and deadlock on issues of rights and responsibilities often acquire an explosive life of their own necessitating third party adjudication and/or legal intervention which is not only time-consuming but financially prohibitive for most people.  

The solution for impasse resolution is often nothing more than the offering of sincere apology to the offended party. The essence of the sincere apology being that it is unreservedly made without the assignment of moral blameworthiness or fault..

In a nutshell, in order to be classified as sincere, the apology must:-

  1. Take into account the offended party’s experience of the situation causing offence;  
  2. The offending party must resolve not to knowingly or wilfully repeat the action or communication causing offence;
  3. The apology must be made unreservedly in other words it must not be dependent upon the offended party also apologising for their alleged role in the dispute or an aspect of the dispute (undoubtedly such course of action is recommended but if the apology is made on the basis that there be a counter-apology it is clearly not unreservedly made)
  4. The apology must be made without justification or explanation for the past conduct or words spoken; and 
  5. The apology must in addition be without correction or advice as to how the offended party should in the future act, speak or conduct themselves or how they should have at the time in question, acted, spoke or conducted themselves.

There is always the unfortunate possibility that communicating an apology may lead to the offended party assuming a moral high-ground and passionately pursuing further legal intervention. What the offended party chooses to do with the apology is neither predicable nor generally preventable but it is worth bearing in mind that from a court’s perspective, an apology is usually taken into account (its influence on outcome depending entirely upon the circumstances of the matter) and it will generally serve to act as a mitigating factor from a judgement and outcome perspective. 

As a rule though a sincere and unreserved apology timeously made has greater potential to release resentment, bitterness, anger and hatred and promote trust and dialogue - an essential requirement particularly where children, extended family and close-knit friendship circles are involved.

For more information hereon please visit Tracey-Leigh Wessels’ website at

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