All of us make mistakes. Some are bigger than others, and some are more in the public eye than others. We seem to take a perverse pleasure in building our public figures up, only to take a greater pleasure in watching them fall, due to their mistakes. A good example of this is the mess that steroids have created for so many athletes. It provides an amazing lesson on how not to say you’re sorry. As a matter of fact, if I were coaching anyone through a mistake, I’d take note of the escapades of Lance Armstrong, and Ryan Braun … and do the opposite.
It’s not the deeds that were done that seem to be antagonizing the public. It’s the ridiculous approach to extraditing themselves from these mistakes that have created an unforgiving feeding frenzy.
The easiest way out of a mess like this appears to be to simply apologize. After all, that seems to be what the public has been demanding. Lance Armstrong took his apology to Oprah. Ryan Braun has tried to apologize twice now, so why aren’t the words, “I’m sorry” enough? The reality is that an apology might be what the press wants, but not what the public wants. That’s because one of the most toxic words in the English language is “sorry,” and the most common blunder anyone can make, when faced with a scenario like this, is to trust your instincts and to apologize.
It is a natural tendency to want to say “I’m sorry” to someone when you have let him or her down. Don’t get me wrong—I have no problem apologizing to my wife or to my friends when I have been at fault, and I would be happy to recommend those words to any falling star if they were of any use. Unfortunately, they are not. Telling someone you are sorry is the equivalent of waving a red cloth in front of a bull. It only makes things a lot worse.
One of the reasons the word “sorry” is of such little use is that it’s not what most of us want to hear. To the public, the word “sorry” represents an empty, useless word that appears to be more condescending than sincere. People don’t want you to be sorry. People want their concerns to be acknowledged, and they want to be listened to.
Rather than releasing a 900-word apology with a detailed explanation as to the reason these “mistakes” were made, imagine if Ryan Braun had stepped up to the microphone and said, “I can understand your frustration.” Imagine if he then restated the issue to prove he understood our concerns: “You placed a lot of faith in me, and I was not truthful regarding my actions.” This demonstrates that he had, in fact, been listening. Then, and only then, would we be ready for him to provide his version of the details.
I cannot guarantee that, if he were to follow this process, we would magically be happy with the realities of his current situation. Based on years of using this process and teaching it to thousands of others, I can tell you that it will dramatically help to defuse the emotion that continues to surround this case. Once this emotion has been defused, we would be willing to listen to the rest of Lance, or Ryan’s story, and we would be in a better position to forgive.
Are you listening A-Rod?