by Steve Adubato, PhD
In golf, a lot of hackers, like myself, give ourselves and those we play with a “mulligan.” Simply put, this is a chance to hit again off the first tee if your shot has gone astray. But when communicating under pressure, you rarely, if ever, get a mulligan. You have to get it right the first time.
Recently, the worlds of golf and communication crashed into each other in connection with one of the most outrageous and embarrassing public scandals to hit in a long time. That’s right; I’m talking about Tiger woods, the greatest golfer of all time, but, as we’ve seen, one of the weakest communicators when trapped.
Tiger Woods deserves some privacy, even though he is the most recognizable sports figure of our time. I have no interest in discussing or judging any aspect of Tiger’s private life. The part I am interested in is the way Tiger communicated from the moment this incident became public.
What he never seemed to understand was that stonewalling, hiding, being defensive and just hoping things would go away was a dumb communication plan. It never works. The idea that Tiger Woods and his “people” wouldn’t let police officials talk to him and his wife after this incident speaks volumes. By doing that (three times) Woods communicated that he had something to hide, whether he actually did or did not.
The fact that for the first 24 hours he said nothing and then put out his first statement online was also weak. People need to see and hear you. If his injuries were not major, then Tiger Woods was more than tough enough to communicate on video. (I’m not even talking about answering questions.) We are talking about a guy who won a major golf tournament on a busted leg. No one questions Tiger’s toughness on the golf course, but in this instance, as a communicator he shanked it big time.
Further, his initial online statement was weak at best; “I’m human and I’m not perfect…This is a private matter and I want to keep it that way.” He went on to talk about the many “false, unfounded and malicious rumors” about him and his family.
It all sounds fine, but the problem with this communication approach was that it was disingenuous. Again, I don’t care what Tiger did outside his marriage. That is not my business and not yours. But Tiger had to know that there were at least two women who were in a position to tell a very different story in a very public way.
Look, the Tiger Woods “brand” was going to take a hit either way in all this. It was embarrassing. His well-crafted image of not just being a nearly perfect golfer, but a near flawless human being, was going to be shot with some pretty big holes. But who IS perfect?
What Tiger Woods and those advising him didn’t understand was that it made a lot more sense for him to speak in the first 24 hours on video, cuts and scratches and all, and look right into the camera and say; “I screwed up. I made mistakes. I alone am responsible for this incident and I apologize to my wife, my fans, my sponsors and others who expected more from me.” If he had done that immediately, he could have minimized some of the initial damage as well as the severity and duration of the hit. Most of us can empathize when people screw up, because WE screw up.
There are some simple rules when communicating in a crisis like this. Communicate fast (within the first 24 hours), clearly, candidly and without attacking anyone else. Do it in person. Take full responsibility and don’t scapegoat or blame anyone else. And, especially if you are Tiger Woods, hiding communicates the worst message of all.