The blame-taker's dilemma

Brian Gunia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Scopus citations


In the wake of negative organizational events, research directs the involved actors to apologize. However, "apologies" often communicate two, distinct messages: responsibility (they take blame) and regret (they express remorse). Though theoretically and practically distinguishable, taking blame and expressing remorse, independently, have not received much research attention. This leaves an important gap, as organizational actors often do one without the other. My research focuses on blame-taking, examining its independent incidence and effectiveness after a common event: a failure with multiple causes. Study 1 investigated incidence, asking consultants to reflect on a failure that they had personally experienced. Their responses suggested that blame-taking is rare and confined to leaders and minor failures. Study 2 sampled separate consultants from the same firm; they reacted to someone who took blame or expressed remorse for the Study 1 stories. Notwithstanding its scarcity, blame-taking was roundly rewarded by the Study 2 participants, in comparison to remorse. With a sample of working adults, Study 3 replicated these effects and documented a reason: blame-taking establishes an actor's character more than remorse. Overall, this research highlights a potential disconnect between what organizational actors do and what others want them to do. People appear quite reluctant to take blame, even though their counterparts would almost uniformly welcome it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAcademy of Management 2011 Annual Meeting - West Meets East: Enlightening. Balancing. Transcending, AOM 2011
PublisherAcademy of Management
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
Event71st Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management - West Meets East: Enlightening, Balancing, Transcending, AOM 2011 - San Antonio, TX, United States
Duration: Aug 12 2011Aug 16 2011


Other71st Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management - West Meets East: Enlightening, Balancing, Transcending, AOM 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Antonio, TX


  • Apology
  • Blame
  • Remorse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management Information Systems
  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • Industrial relations


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