Following the revelation of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, there's been an explosion of sexual harassment allegations. Unfortunately, many of the high-profile men who have been publicly accused of harassing or assaulting women haven't taken responsibility for their actions.
But Dan Harmon, creator of the show Community, gave an apology that was different. Following an exchange on Twitter with his former employee, Megan Ganz, Harmon referenced some of his "bad behavior." He has since publicly apologized on his podcast, Harmontown.
What Made Harmon's Apology Different
In his lengthy apology, Harmon admitted he had been attracted to Ganz. He explained that he wasn't sure how to deal with his feelings. Since she was his employee, he knew his attraction to her would cause problems (in addition to the fact that he had a live-in girlfriend).
He said he, "did the cowardly, easiest, laziest thing you can do with feelings like that and didn't deal with them. And in not dealing with them, I made everybody else deal with them, especially her. Flirty, creepy, everything other than overt enough to constitute betraying your live-in girlfriend."
Harmon goes on to explain how he dismissed Ganz when she said his behavior was causing her to feel uncomfortable. And he publicly claimed he had a deep respect for women.
But now, he acknowledges he didn't respect women. And he says his behavior was wrong.
Harmon's apology led to a reaction by Ganz on Twitter. She writes, "He's not rationalizing or justifying or making excuses. He doesn't just vaguely acknowledge some general wrongdoing in the past. He gives a full account."
She goes on to say, "What I didn't expect was the relief I'd feel just hearing him say those things actually happened. I didn't dream it. I'm not crazy. Ironic that the only person who could give me that comfort is the one person I'd never ask."
The Science Behind Effective Apologies
So why was Harmon's apology effective? Researchers have found that there is some science behind an effective apology.
A 2016 study published in Negotiation and Conflict Management Research found six components to a good apology. While not all six components need to be included in order to be effective, the more components that were included, the more likely the apology was to be accepted:
- Expression of regret.
- Explanation of what went wrong.
- Acknowledgement of responsibility.
- Declaration of repentance.
- Offer of repair.
- Request for forgiveness.
Researchers say the most important thing to do is accept responsibility. Acknowledge you made a mistake and make it clear that you are the one at fault.
That may be the biggest reason why Harmon's apology was so effective. He took full responsibility for his actions. He offered an explanation by saying he had feelings for Ganz, but he didn't make any excuses.
That is in stark contrast to the other apologies we've been hearing. Many other men have apologized for the victim's feelings, rather than their own behavior.
Clearly, there's a big difference between saying, "I'm sorry you felt offended by my actions," and "I'm sorry I acted offensively."
Find the Courage to Apologize
Apologizing doesn't undo the harm you've caused to others. But, a sincere, heartfelt apology can go a long way toward helping a victim heal.
Harmon's apology was a great step in the right direction--he admitted sexual harassment is a major problem and he acknowledged the personal role he played.
As of now, women are saying #MeToo as they share their experiences being harassed by men. Perhaps Harmon's apology can help other men find the courage to admit that they too have been part of the problem.