Monday, February 22, 2010

My Thoughts on Tiger Part 2 - What He Said

Unless you are enduring 45 days of in-patient therapy, you were undoubtedly exposed to an unlimited number of media stories and commentaries about Tiger’s statement over the weekend. Though the source of Tiger’s fame and fortune is his career as a professional golfer, his story has leapt from the pages of the sports section to the mainstream media. Every news outlet had an expert ready and willing to dissect Tiger’s statement and speculate about deeper meaning (myself included). Who was Tiger really speaking to? What was his goal in making this statement? Do you think it worked? What does it all mean?

Three themes became evident to me as I soaked up the analysis. First, there are those who would have thought the statement abhorrent regardless of what Tiger said or did because they cannot get past his objectionable behavior. This sentiment was largely represented through the “man on the street” interviews, and largely from women. Because they wouldn’t be persuaded by anything, we don’t need to discuss this group any further.

Next there are those who thought Tiger seemed sincere and that his statement was all-in-all a successful first step at rehabilitating his career and his public image. Lastly, a significant portion of the “experts” thought Tiger came off as cold and self-serving. I think both groups are right, and I think the difference in perception stems from Tiger, at times, sending inconsistent signals. What he was saying (verbal communication) often didn’t match what he was doing (nonverbal communication).

We’ll discuss the nonverbal communication tomorrow, but let’s look at the words written on the page Tiger was so carefully reading. The statement is better than average. In fact it is a good round…for an amateur. If only he had sent it in for a little editing, we could have tweaked here and there to make it excellent. For instance, when I got to the part where he brags about how his foundation work has benefited thousands of kids, my red pen would have been furiously at work. We didn’t need the self-serving statistics to get the point, and the placement of it within the speech was awkward. Speaking of awkward, who knew Tiger Woods collaborated with Buddha? Semi-interesting, I guess, but do we really care? And what, pray tell, do performance enhancing drugs have to do with the price of tea in China? All of the above were self-serving (not to mention bizarre) components of his statement that only served to distract the audience from his core apology message.

The people who found him sincere were most likely responding to the language he used. He was very successful at using powerful, emotional language that was appropriate for the situation. Atone, foolish, irresponsible, integrity, decency, character, bitterly, ordeal – each word meant to elicit emotion from the listener by convincing us that the speaker himself is emotionally tied to the statement.

Much has been made of the ten times Tiger used his wife’s name, Elin. While some speculate he was speaking directly TO her, I find it hard to believe that he said anything here that he hasn’t already said to her. After all, they have “started the process of discussing the damage” so I would bet he has started the process of apologizing…in private. It is more likely that his “Elin never hit me that night or any other night” statement was Elin speaking to us through Tiger. He clearly communicated his respect of Elin and her behavior by saying “Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal. Elin deserves praise, not blame.” For me, this was one of his stronger pieces of rhetoric in the statement because of its strong, concise language. Using these bold, emotional and relatable words clearly gained him bonus points with a portion of the audience. '

His intention was to apologize and, yes, to take a first step in the process of rehabilitating his image. As far as apologies go, he was successful (remember, I’m still talking about the statement itself, not his delivery of it). He took responsibility for his actions and several times referenced the hard work he had ahead to “atone” for his misdeeds. Without fail, Tiger offered this apology to every person or group that has an interest in him. This seemed sincere.

Sincere, yet cold. So those who thought he was sincere were responding to his verbal communication. Check back tomorrow for my review of his nonverbal communication and where the statement went terribly awry.

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