Obama’s Apology Needs Mandatory Healthcare

Welcome! I’m a practicing psychologist, author and apology critic who helps people find the right words for the right situation. I use my creativity to help my clients work on their relationship and communication puzzles.

A Quick Recap:

Obama gave a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd that was conducted at the White House. The taped interview showed Obama talking about problems with the rollout of Obamacare in general and his underestimate of the number of people who would lose their current health insurance plans, in particular. Chuck Todd asked a pointed question in which he basically said, “You’ve admitted that you over promised about people being able to keep their plans. Don’t you think you owe them an apology?” President Obama replied that he is “sorry” that some Americans are losing their current health insurance plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act, despite his promise that no one would have to give up a health plan they liked.

Was His Apology A Good One?

I’ve analyzed President Obama’s comments using the five languages of apology from my 2013 book with Gary Chapman, When Sorry Isn’t Enough. Here is a numbered list of our apology languages. Below my list, I’ve referenced these numbers in parentheses following Obama’s comments during the interview with Chuck Todd of NBC news.

1. Expressing regret- Saying “I’m sorry for the hurt I’ve caused.”

2. Accepting responsibility- Saying “I was wrong.”

3. Making restitution- Asking, “What can I do to make things right?

4. Genuinely repenting- Stating how you will change so you will not do it again.

5. Requesting forgiveness- Asking, “Will you please forgive me?”

What Obama Said:

“I am sorry that they (people who cannot stay with their old plans) are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me” (#1 and #2).

“We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this” (#1 and #4).

What The Public Says:

According to one poll taken today, the public has not been won over by Obama’s apology. It’s hard to find a supportive comment for him among any of the blog comments I’ve reviewed. Respondents were asked whether or not Obama’s apology was sincere. 86% of the people said “No” while only 14% said “Yes.”

What this may speak to is that Americans as a whole have a very different language than #1, #2, and #4, which he covered. We need a #3 – making it right. Not saying “we need to work hard to” but to actually roll out the plan that WILL make it right. This is the apology language of our nation – actions  count more than words.

In addition, there is another perspective worth considering. The fact that the President didn’t have to apologize at all. To this end, I think they should add three more important questions:

Did you feel that Obama needed to make a public apology?

If so, are you satisfied with Obama’s apology?

What is your political party?

My Analysis:

As an apology expert, I tell people what to say when messy situations arise. There are a few specific things I would tell President Obama. First, his apology is on life support  because the heartbeat of an apology is that it is offered quickly and freely. Second, he only touched on three of the five languages. Third, be very aware that your body language is also communicating remorse (or the lack thereof).

If you ever find yourself needing to offer a mea culpa for having dropped the ball, use this simple advice:

  • Take the initiative to apologize without others forcing your hand.
  • Cover all five languages of apology.
  • Make sure that your body language, eye contact, etc. show your deep sincerity.

What Could be Next?

To date, Obama has not apologized for the significant problems with the health care sign-up website. Some would say that Obama is not responsible for project details such as website capacity. Others would say that the buck stops with Obama.

I predict that a more extensive apology will be offered in a non-interview setting. Also, I predict that people in top leadership will be fired and those firings will be mentioned in future apologies. This will show an effort to make amends for failures in the management of the rollout and a commitment to fixing the problems going forward.

Post Script

On November 14, 2103, Obama offered amends to the public (our 3rd languages of apology). He offered a 12-month reprieve on health care plans. I applaud him for this step. Whereas talk is “cheap”, this action conveyed sincerity.

Your Turn:

What do you want to hear from the Obamacare team?

What do you most like to hear in any apology?


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