Was Tiger Woods Believable?

Although it was painful for Tiger Woods to have his giant size ‘statement’ this morning, the key question is: was he believable? Oh, we want facts (is Elin leaving? when is he returning to golf? is he staying in rehab?, etc) but that information we could get from his web page, where he has announced everything else. We want to see him. We want to hear and ‘feel’ him to judge for ourselves.

My book “You’ve Got To Be Believed To Be Heard” is a case in point. Before this morning, Tiger Woods lived a life of deception – lying to Elin, to his friends, and to millions of his public. He was not believed before his statement. He had to be telling a dozen or so lies a day to keep up his dual life. Has his deception changed? If he’s not believed, he won’t be heard.

So the question is can he regain our trust and his credibility? This was a messaging event where we had to see his heart.

Did we?

In a word, yes.

We saw a different Tiger Woods. Here is what he did well:

  • He apologized. He had never had personally done that before. When he said “I’m sorry” directly to the camera, to the people he was trying to reach, several times, he looked like he meant it. Perception is reality in the mind of the perceiver.
  • He was authentic and sincere. His eyes teared up (and if that is feigned and put on, then he is an acting robot.)
  • He covered the bases, answering those questions he could, and leaving unanswered those he couldn’t.

It’s all about messaging, creating a positive experience that moves the ball in the right direction. He hit a long drive down the fairway.

Here’s is what was missing:

  • This was a staged “press conference.” It began with the announcement in advance that he would take no questions. Immediately he was perceived as blocking, shielding, dodging, lying or otherwise obfuscating and having something to hide.
  • I felt a few times the ‘professional’ polish on his statement – the words he was reading. He spent too much time on his Foundation, and other of his individual efforts. He didn’t have to spend the time on his business partners (and his thanks to Accenture – that was professionally appropriate but not in this personal statement.) I’m not sure his anger at the media was necessary. He showed humility for the first time – I would have liked to see it more coming from the heart than from a prepared statement that could be sure to get in his good side.
  • The ending was awkward. Little things mean a lot. We were looking for the nuance. His smile came back very quickly from a painful experience of anguish. He hugged the first row, then stiffly walked off. And did he wipe his brow on the way out, or was he wiping his eyes. Either was OK, but I’d feel better about him if the emotion tone was consistent throughout seeing him come on and depart.

Ultimately, we’ll see. The words, and this communication experience he’s created, are an important first step. As he said, Elin will judge his behavior, not his words. So will we.

A couple of months ago we had him as one of the Ten Worst Communicators of 2009 – mostly because he shut up and did not communicate, much less speak openly. And whenever he did speak, he never really communicated whom he was even before his downfall. Lesson for all of us – if we don’t communicate openly and authentically, we just don’t communicate and will fail to get a believable message across. The Tiger has now talked.

So Tiger Woods is now out in the fairway, and close to the green. Tiger Woods next couple of shots in public will be critical to see if he ultimately makes a par or a birdie. Or a bogie if he does not walk his talk.

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