Language complicates Armstrong apology
GREENSBORO, Jan 19, 2013 (News & Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Lance Armstrong sat in a chair next to Oprah Winfrey in a made-for-TV interview and admitted to years of doping and lies.
But is he sorry
Dr. Jennifer Thomas, a psychologist from Greensboro and the co-author of "The Five Languages of Apology," watched intently. She looked for clues in body language and listened carefully to the words Armstrong chose.
And she's skeptical.
"He talked about it as a house of cards that came crashing down," Thomas said. "I was looking for him to say, 'I'm glad it did. I'm glad it's over.' He didn't say that. And that leads me to believe he's sorry he got caught, not sorry that he did it."
Armstrong has been stripped of every title won since 1998 -- including his record seven Tour de France victories -- and banned for life from any sport that follows the World Anti Doping Agency code. He answered all of Winfrey's questions about his fall from grace.
How Armstrong answered those questions raised a red flag with Thomas.
"He used a passive voice more than he should have," Thomas said. "It's subtle, but as a psychologist it's something I look for. At one point he said, 'It's a major flaw. A guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and control every outcome.' He didn't say, 'I expected to get everything I wanted,' or 'I expected to control every outcome.' ...
"He was talking about winning at all costs, saying 'the level it went to was a flaw.' As a counselor, I'm all over that. He should've said 'I took it to that level.' ... That makes you ask yourself: Was he sincere That's where rubber hits the road here."
Thomas has worked for Associates in Christian Counseling in Winston-Salem since 1998. Her work focuses on communication, apologies and forgiveness.
She and Gary Chapman co-wrote "The Five Languages of Apology" after counseling married couples and finding a communication gap in how people apologized to one another.
The lesson: How something is said can be as important as what is said.
"Passive language is an indication of someone who's not accepting full responsibility," Thomas said. "I'm looking for the words 'I' and 'my.' ... He should not be saying 'mistakes were made.' He should be saying 'I made mistakes.'"
It wasn't all bad.
Thomas said Armstrong's decision to talk in an interview setting was more believable than reading from a script as Tiger Woods did.
And Armstrong scored points for not being defensive and not using qualifiers to explain his actions.
"I didn't find him splitting hairs or giving caveats," Thomas said. "That was a strength of his apology."
Even so, Thomas' research indicates people identify strongly with one of the five types of apology.
"He used two: 'I'm sorry' and 'I was wrong,' " Thomas said. "If you only use two, you're only reaching (40 percent) of people. The other (60 percent) are going to tell you, 'He didn't say something that spoke to me.' "
Contact Jeff Mills at 373-7024, and follow @JefeMills on Twitter.
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