Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger’s Troubles

He Can Putt 50 Yards But Stumbles, Fumbles, Mumbles, and Bumbles a Simple Direct Apology

What should Tiger Woods really have done?

Within the first 30 to 45 minutes of the incident occurring, he should have given the police a statement and had the police give it out to the public:
"About an hour ago, following an intense argument about a family matter, and upset, I angrily drove my SUV out of my driveway, lost control of the vehicle—apparently hitting a fire hydrant, perhaps a couple of parked cars, and ultimately a tree across the street from my driveway. The incident happened pretty fast, and I got a little banged up. Within seconds of the crash, my wife, Elin, was outside of my SUV breaking a window to help get me out of the vehicle.

This is a silly, needless, three-minute incident, all my fault, which will cause my family and those who know me some brief anguish and public exposure. For that I am profoundly sorry.

I will do whatever the police instruct and humbly ask the forgiveness of my family and neighbors for the disruption I’ve caused in their lives this evening."
Such an initial statement would create four things that, in hindsight, Mr. Woods seems to think he is owed:
  1. Some semblance of privacy
  2. Being able to avoid the embarrassing speculation of others and moderate media frenzy that occurred
  3. The ability to control his personal circumstances
  4. His integrity and brand value largely intact
There has yet to be a true apology from Mr. Woods and, indeed, there may never be one revealed publicly.

The most constructive structure for apology I’ve seen is in The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships, a book by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas. Here, with some paraphrasing and modification based on my experiences, are the ingredients of the perfect apology:
  1. Regret (acknowledgment): A verbal acknowledgement by the perpetrator that their wrongful behavior caused unnecessary pain, suffering, and hurt that identifies, specifically, what action or behavior is responsible for the pain.
  2. Accepting Responsibility (declaration): An unconditional declarative statement by the perpetrator recognizing their wrongful behavior and acknowledging that there is no excuse for the behavior.
  3. Restitution (penance): An offer of help or assistance to victims, by the perpetrator; action beyond the words “I’m sorry”; and conduct that assumes the responsibility to make the situation right.
  4. Repentance (humility): Language by the perpetrator acknowledging that this behavior caused pain and suffering for which he/she is genuinely sorry; language by the perpetrator recognizing that serious, unnecessary harm and emotional damage was caused.
  5. Direct Forgiveness Request: “I was wrong, I hurt you, and I ask you to forgive me.”
Do apologies matter? Twenty-nine states seem to think so. These states have enacted legislation exempting voluntary expressions of regret and apology at traffic accidents from being considered by juries when setting auto liability damages. Legislation is pending in Congress to mitigate the impact of liability on malpractice insurance claims against doctors and medical personnel who apologize immediately, or very quickly, and sincerely.

The hard part of apologizing is the admission of having done something hurtful, damaging, or wrong and requesting forgiveness. In practice, skip even one step and you fail to convince anyone of your sincerity or integrity.

My immediate advice to Mr. Woods:
  1. Get better legal counsel; get better communications counsel (they are very different disciplines); then listen up.
  2. Brands (which is what you have intended to be) have no rights to privacy. There are owned by the publics who purchase and trust them.
  3. Abject, humble, meaningful, and sincere words of apology—personally delivered—generate enormous public sympathy. The single most powerful benefit of this behavior is that the media hate it and generally won’t cover it, for long.
Remember the rules for forgiveness:
  1. Silence is toxic.
  2. Candor builds trust.
  3. Openness calms the masses.
  4. Apology is the atomic energy of empathy for your believers, followers, and wannabes; disables the media; and disempowers attorneys.
  5. Public repentance is required. Some extraordinary act of generosity affecting a wide variety of people and places is called for, something that preferably really hurts.
In my next blog post, I’ll take Mr. Wood’s most recent statement and specifically, sentence by sentence, describe what he should have done.

If you’re interested in reading more about apology, visit Who's Sorry Now: The Growing Art of the Apology.

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