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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Rielle Hunter’s About-Face: Is Her Apology Real or Just Hunting For Book Sales?

 

A Quick Recap:

Rielle Hunter, the woman who had a child in secret with former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, has changed her tune. This comes 6 years after her affair with Edwards. This week, her public defiance has been replaced with remorse. Hunter is so sorry, in fact, that on Tuesday she re-released her June 2012 memoir What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me. The updated version, titled In Hindsight, What Really Happened, is filled with Hunter’s regrets and mistakes.

Is Her Apology A Good One?

I’ve analyzed Hunter’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 Hunter’s comments.

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 She Said:

“For years I was so viciously attacked by the media and the world that I felt like a victim. I now realize that the attacks are actually beside the point. The point is: I behaved badly.” (#2)

“I’m sorry — really, really sorry.”  (#1)

“I am very sorry for my wrong, selfish behavior”  (#1 and #2)

“Back in 2006, I did not think about the scope of my actions, how my falling in love with John Edwards, and acting on that love, could hurt so many people. I hurt Elizabeth and her kids. I hurt her family. I hurt John’s family. I hurt people that knew Elizabeth. I hurt people who didn’t know Elizabeth but loved her from afar. I hurt people who gave their hard earned dollars to a campaign — a cause they believed in…” (#1 and #2)

“Unfortunately, I was not thinking about anyone but myself. I was selfish. I fell in love with John Edwards and wanted to be with him and that desire trumped everything else.” (#2)

What The Public is Saying:

The public has not been won over by Hunter’s apology. It’s hard to find a supportive comment for her among any of the blog comments I’ve reviewed. One website took a vote with this question:

Rielle Hunter apologizes: Do you buy it?

Their preliminary results:

68% NO

32% YES

My Analysis:

As an apology expert, I tell people what to say when messy situations arise. What exactly would I tell Rielle Hunter? I’d say, “Your apology is better late than never. You have made a start here but you’ve only covered two of the five languages of apology. I want to believe that your apology is sincere but others will be watching to see action along with your words. What kind of action would help you make amends? Invest in programs that build healthy families. Also, the fact that your book release coincides with your apology makes it appear as if the purpose of your apology is to sell books. It reminds me of when a criminal apologizes before being sentenced. The motive of the apology immediately becomes suspect.”

Most people will say that they can’t relate to Hunter’s apology situation. However, people do illicit things and betray others all the time. If you ever find yourself needing to offer a big mea culpa, be bold in your apology. Admit that your past excuses were hair brained and completely pitiful. Make amends and talk about your process of change. What exactly has brought you to your senses? Was it a spiritual experience? Wise counsel? A lightening bolt? Finally, ask your audience to forgive you. For some people, this request is an absolutely essential part of your apology. If you don’t ask for their forgiveness, our research shows that some people will feel you are holding out on them.

What Could be Next?

I imagine that talk show hosts are lining up to try to get John or Kate Edwards to sit down on TV and talk live with a contrite Rielle Hunter. Such a show might gather high ratings but I can’t imagine that it would do any good for the innocent children in their families.

An Apology Side Note:

While doing research for this blog post, I came across another mention of an apology. Here is some background: Hunter grew up with three sisters and no brothers. Her parents divorced when she was seventeen. On August 13, 2008, Hunter’s sister, Roxanne Druck Marshall, publically apologized to John Edwards’s wife Elizabeth for her sister’s behavior.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and be entered in my monthly drawing for a $20 Amazon gift card.

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J.C. Penney Gives a Cheap Apology to America

J.C. Penney launched a 30-second apology advertisement. This is rare. I give them credit for offering a mea culpa. However, they have much more work to do going forward. Our research showed that in order to convey sincerity to all types of listeners, public apologies should include these 5 parts:

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 did J.C. Penney say in their ad?

“’It’s no secret, recently JC Penney changed. Some changes you liked, and some you didn’t. But, what matters with mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you, to hear what you need to make your life more beautiful. Come back to JC Penney. We heard you. Now we’d love to see you.”

My analysis:

They admitted to making mistakes, our 2nd language of apology, but they were too vague. We are left wondering:

  • Are you really sorry for your ads that were too risque?
  • How will you make it up to your customers?
  • How will things be different?
  • How much does J.C. Penney really care?

Lance Armstrong is not Apology-Strong

Monday, Lance Armstrong admitted to doping in cycling in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Last night, the Oxygen network broadcast the second part of the interview. I’ve analyzed Armstrong’s comments using the five languages of apology from my book with Gary Chapman by the same title.  Here is a numbered list of our apology languages.  Below, I’ve referenced these numbers in parentheses following some of his selected comments:

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 HE SAID:

Interview Part 1:

I’m not the most believable guy in the world, I understand.

(When asked whether he was a bully): Yeah (#2).

I was reckless. I deserve it (criticism)  (#2).

(About trying to win at all costs): The level it went to was a flaw  (#2).

(About a video clip of him from the past): Look at that arrogant person. That’s not good  (#2).

I’ve made some mistakes in my life. That video was one of them. Watching it, I’m embarrassed. That was lame  (#1 and #2).

(About whether he felt his doping was wrong when he did it): No. Scary, huh?  (#2).

(About whether he felt he had cheated when he doped): No. I know it 1000 times more now  (#2).

Supporters have every right to feel betrayed. It’s my fault. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to apologize and earn back trust  (#2, #4).

I need to apologize to (masseuse) Emma O’Riley. She’s one of the people that got run over  (#2).

(About having sued people who outed him): It’s a major flaw. A guy who expected to get everything he wanted. It’s inexcusable. I’ve started the process of contacting them directly and saying I’m sorry. I was wrong. You were right  (#1 and #2).

I haven’t doped since 2005  (#4)

Interview Part 2:

I owe a lot of people apologies… (To my followers) I understand you anger, your sense of betrayal. You supported me, you believed… and I lied to you (#1 and #2).

(Tweeting about having his Tour De France jerseys). That was a mistake. That was more defiance. You know what was scary, I actually thought it was a good idea at the time (#2).

I need to not do therapy (counseling) sporadically. I need to do it consistently.

Over the holidays, I told my oldest son that it’s true (I’ve been doping). (Tearfully for the first time) I told Luke, “Don’t defend me anymore. …Just say ‘hey. my Dad said he’s sorry.’ I said, ‘I love you'” (#1 and #2).

It’s not fair for me to have put this issue into my kids’ lives. My interviews and dumb tweets will live forever  (#2).

That was narcisstic (on my part)  (#2).

I’m deeply sorry for what I did  (#1).

The biggest challenge for the rest of my life is to not slip up again  (#4). I cheated to win bike races,  lied about it, bullied people… the ultimate crime was the betrayal of all the people who believed in me  (#2).

MY ANALYSIS:

In his apology, Armstrong used only three of the languages of apology (expressing regret- one full star, accepting responsibility- one  full star, and genuinely repenting- one full star). Based upon our research, he would have missed the mark for 30% of people with this limited statement.

I added the italics (above) to sections of Armstrong’s comments that I would coach him to strengthen. All of the italicized passages include a passive voice or impersonal pronouns. I would advise him to have made these statements stronger by substituting words like “I”, “me” and “mine” in order to boost his perceived sincerity.

MY OTHER THOUGHTS:

This big confession is reminiscent of Tiger Woods’ 2010 apology for mega-philandering. I gave his apology a 5 Star rating but I was unsure whether the apology script had been written by Woods or by his public relations team. In contrast, I give Armstrong some credit for having made his confession without an apparent script.

My family is one that has cheered for Armstrong and the US Postal team in the “Tour de Lance” over the years.  I recall my 5-year-old son cheering for Lance (we use his first name in our home) as he rode triumphantly into Paris at the end of one of his tours. We had told my little guy that Lance would ride through Paris and then receive his championship trophy.  When we saw TV coverage of the bikers passing by the Arc de Triumph, my son asked incredulously if that monument would be Lance’s trophy.  🙂

Some readers may (understandably) have “Lance fatigue”. Others may say that they have not lost their respect for him this week because he did not have their respect in the first place. I know a number of people who were insulted by how Mr. Armstrong appears to have treated his former wife (Kik Armstrong) and his former girlfriend (Sheryl Crow). While many talking heads are chattering on the news channels, I’ve noticed the apparent classy silence of these two women this week.

It is worth noting that Lance Armstrong and his legacy are very complex.  He is a cancer survivor and he has been a great help to others through the development of the LIVESTRONG charity. As a psychologist who works with many families who are battling cancer, I’d be remiss if I did not applaud his efforts to be truthful now and to assist cancer survivors.

FOR FURTHER READING:

Language Complicates Armstrong Apology

What are your thoughts?

Rush Limbaugh’s Apology Lacks Excellence in Broadcasting

Rush Limbaugh apologized Saturday to the Georgetown University law school student he called a “slut” and “prostitute” earlier in the week. The third-year law student had testified before Democrats in favor of President Obama‘s new rule requiring employers to offer health insurance plans that cover birth control.

My rating of Limbaugh’s apology: 1 out of 5 Stars. Below, I’ll analyze Limbaugh’s statement using the five languages of apology from my book with Gary Chapman by the same title.  Here is a numbered list of our apology languages.  Within Limbaugh’s text, I’ll reference these numbers in parentheses after his comments:

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 that you will try not to do it again.

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

WHAT HE SAID:

A Statement from Rush

March 03, 2012

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week.  In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation (2). I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best (2), and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices (2).

MY ANALYSIS:

In his apology, Limbaugh used only the second language of apology (accepting responsibility).  Based upon our research, he would have missed the mark for 72% of people with this limited statement.

Courtroom Apology by Murderer Anthony Sowell of Ohio: .5 (out of 5) Stars

Anthony Sowell, 51, of Ohio went on trial in June 2011 and was convicted in July on 82 counts: aggravated murder, kidnapping, corpse abuse and evidence tampering.

WHAT HE SAID:

  Before his sentencing, Sowell offered this apology to the families of his many victims:

“Well, the only thing I want to say is, I’m sorry”

“I know that might not sound like much, but I truly am sorry from the bottom of my heart.”

“I don’t know what happened, it’s not typical of me,” Sowell had said. “I can’t explain it and I know it’s not a lot, but it’s all I can give.”

 

WHAT I SAY: Here are the Five Languages of Apologythat Gary Chapman and I developed based upon research for our (2006) book by the same title.

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 that you will try not to do it again.

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

In his apology, Mr. Sowell used only the first language of apology (expressing regret).  Based upon our research, he would have missed the mark for 72% of the public with these statements of regret.  I gave him only half a star because he did not name what he did that he is “sorry” about.

When he said, “I don’t know what happened,” he failed to accept responsibility for his actions (Apology language #2).  His actions did not just “happen”; he committed the heinous crimes.  During my doctoral internship, I worked with patients in a state hospital who had criminal charges and were pleading insanity.  Too many of our patients made the same mistake of saying that things “just happened.”

NEWS UPDATE:

The prosecution wasn’t allowed to cross-examine Sowell, leaving unspoken the question of why he killed the victims and attacked three other women who survived and testified against him.

Anthony Sowell should die by lethal injection for his crimes, Judge Dick Ambrose ruled, accepting the sentencing recommendation of the jury that convicted Sowell of aggravated murder. There was applause in the courtroom after the sentencing recommendations were read.

Media Inquiries for J. Thomas:  336-254-4325

Weineragate: Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Apology. My Rating: 2 (out of 5) Stars

Anthony Wiener is in hot water. He sabotaged himself by sexting first privately then publicly. Next, he LIED to cover it up.

Wikipedia provides this bio:

Anthony David Weiner (born September 4, 1964) is the U.S. Representative for New York’s 9th congressional district. Weiner is a Democrat, and has held the office since 1999. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1998 mid-term elections. He was re-elected handily for six additional terms, receiving 59 percent of the vote in 2010.  He was an unsuccessful candidate for Mayor of New York City in the 2005 election.

In June 2011, after having first denied doing so, Weiner admitted having sent sexually explicit photographs of himself to several women “followers” on Twitter, both before and since his marriage a year ago. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation.  On June 9, a NY1-Marist Poll showed that 56% of registered voters in Weiner’s Congressional District wanted him to stay in Congress, and 33% thought he should resign.  On June 11, Pelosi and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz called for Weiner’s resignation.  

Weiner’s Statements and My Thoughts:

Below, I’ll analyze Weiner’s public apology from 6/7/2011 using the five languages of apology from my book with Gary Chapman by the same title.  Here is a numbered list of our apology languages.  Within Weiner’s apology text, I’ll reference these numbers in parentheses after his comments:

  1.           Expressing Regret: “I am sorry”
  2.           Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong”
  3.           Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”
  4.           Genuinely Repenting: “I’ll try not to do that again”
  5.           Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”

Weiner said:

I would like to take this time to clear up some of the questions that have been raised over the past ten days or so. I take full responsibility for my actions. At the outset, I would like to make it clear that I have made terrible mistakes (2).

I have hurt the people I care about the most and I am deeply sorry (1). I have not been honest with myself, my family, my constituents, my friend and supporters and the media (2).

Last Friday night I tweeted a photo of myself that I intended to send as a direct message as part of a joke to a woman in Seattle.

Once I realized that I had posted it to Twitter I panicked, I took it down and I said that I had been hacked. I then continued with that story, to stick to that story, which was a hugely regrettable mistake (1, 2).

This woman was unwittingly dragged into this and bears absolutely no responsibility (2). I am so sorry to have disrupted her life in this way (1). To be clear, the picture was of me and I sent it (2).

I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my wife Huma, and my family, and my constituents, my friends, supporters and staff (1).
In addition over the past few years I have engaged in several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, email and occasionally on the phone with women I had met online.

I have exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the past three years.

For the most part these communications took place before my marriage, although some sadly took place after (2).

I have never met any of these women, or ever had physical relationships of any kind.

I haven’t told the truth, (breaks down) I have done things that I deeply regret (1,2). I brought pain to people I care about the most, to people dear to me, and for that I am deeply sorry (1).

I apologize to my wife and our families, as well as to our friends and supporters. I am deeply ashamed of my terrible judgment and actions (1,2).

My analysis:  

Weiner only covered two of the five languages of apology in his statement.  At that time, he did not offer any amends or a plan to change his behavior.  He did not make a request for forgiveness.  Five days later, he announced that he will enter rehab.  This is a good step towards cleaning up his act and, perhaps, his reputation.

Bonus Material:

Weiner has not admitted to having an affair.  Has he “cheated”?   My late colleague Dr. Shirley Glass (she’s the mother of NPR’s Ira Glass) wrote about the power of both emotional affairs and sexual affairs.  Weiner has not done some damage to the emotional trust in his marriage; he has set off an atomic bomb in his home.  

MSNBC reports that last weekend, Weiner ran some personal errands near his home in the New York City borough of Queens during the morning, and said he was looking forward to getting back to work quickly.  Weiner told reporters:

“I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve acknowledged it. I’m trying to make it up to my wife and my family,” he said. “I’m working hard to get back to normal.”

When I heard the above quote, I groaned.  The word “some” in the first sentence grabbed my attention and would not let me go.  A man who is in the center of such a huge scandal should not use that word.  All of us make SOME mistakes, but if the President of the United States is saying that he would resign if he were in your shoes (as Obama said on Monday), Weiner’s comment is far too minimizing.  Weiner has made enormous, repeated mistakes.  He has lost the trust of many.  Why did/does he make such choices?

Weiner’s 39-year-old brother Seth was killed in a hit and run pedestrian/car accident on May 20th, 2000 (Weiner also has a younger brother, Jason).  As a psychologist, I see Weiner’s compulsive sexual actions as possibly being triggered by the pain of this loss.  Pain creates a desire to escape and we know that sex is a common refuge (along with drugs and alcohol).  When did Weiner get in trouble for his growing online flirtations?  He made his Twitter photo mistake in May, the same month of the year in which he lost his brother in the blink of an eye eleven years ago.  I’m surprised that, to date, this issue of grief has not been raised by the mainstream media.  Anyone who has lost a loved one deserves compassion.  However, this is no excuse for lying and cheating.  Many say that Weiner no longer deserves his respected position in Congress.  Will he come to that painful realization this week?

What are your thoughts?