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.

11 comments on “Was Tiger Woods Believable?

  1. The answer to your articles’ question is something that is so subjective, it can’t be quantified.

    Yes, Tiger is a world wide celebrity. As such, he is open to extreme public scrutiny for his actions, successes and failures (on and off the course),and the representations for his sport and sponsors. He has never been one to give great speeches or interviews, why would you expect any different in such a devastating situation as this?

    But, he is also a human being, a person, a man that screwed up. He’s not the first and won’t be the last. The world (and especially the press) has its eyes on the wrong ball. This is a personal matter between Tiger and his wife and family. No one else. Unfortunately, since Tiger is such a celebrity the press and the media over time has made such events everyones business, right or wrong. There has been untold numbers of men (and women)that have been in Tigers situation and most of them have had to make the same apology. I have been one of them. There is no easy way to do it. I realize it has to do with integrity and trust since he was married, but simply put, had Tiger been a single man, his escapades with multiple women over several years would not have really mattered or be considered a “sexual addiction”.

    In my opinion, the ultimate answer to your question is “It’s none of our business” It is a matter between Tiger and Elin and we should leave them alone to try to repair THEIR damages.

  2. Bert, It seems to me that we will either love him or not and as you point out, that believability will be based on how his words align with his actions. His intention in this PR event was clearly to say something to his public, but the truth is, none of us are completely clear about why he felt he needed to say something. And many people, like me, feel that his personal life has little to do with the reason we like him (and is not something we should even be involved in!) We follow him because he’s been wildly successful using his talents and skills. We’d all like to do that. The rest is noise.

  3. Bert, two things immediately got my attention – maybe as distractions from the main reason he should have been talking. One, his anger at the press for pursuing his family. Personally, I didn’t feel he was in any position to display anger (even if might be justified – time and place and all that). Two, his talk about wanting his work to help kids to continue hit me as a “wrong time to say that.”

    Truth be told – a year from now nobody will much care no matter what he says, or doesn’t say. I find that perhaps the most regrettable idea of all.

    I love your books, blog and all you do. Thank you!

  4. Thanks Bryon,

    As I mentioned, perception is reality in the mind of the perveiver. There are a lot of different takes on this experience with Tiger. He IS such a controlled person that his emotions could be a sham – which I indicate – but I don’t think so. It remains to be seen, heard, and felt.

    I’m not a fan of such a prepared press conference either, but at an event of this stage, you make compromises and consider the person involved. Tiger Woods went a long way out of his comfort zone in this one. One hopes he can go yet further – I agree with you that he has to.

    But he did cover the bases:
    * admitted multiple affairs and need for therapy (albeit without mentioning ‘sexual addiction’ which he should have. It is what it is.)
    * was going back to therapy
    * is working on his marriage (and at this stage it wasn’t necessary to say why Elin wasn’t there. Kind of obvious, she’s not sold yet, but is also not divorcing yet.)
    * will be coming back to golf (probably this year)

    Thanks for your comments.


  5. Yes Kathy, it was a PR triumph. But more than that.

    He had to do something – and though all experts and pundits (including me and you) would have him do some things differently, it was a good first step.

    When you’re deep in a well and muddy and sweaty, when you first come out you’re still dirty and sweaty. This begins to wipe the mud off. We’ll see whether the shower is working.


  6. Thanks Elke,

    Good comments. And I agree, in this case reading was fine. It’s much different from a teleprompter where we rarely get eyes on us (the camera.)


  7. Good point Ike.

    That’s why his behavior from now on will be more important than this start. But it is a start – he has a lot of baggage to overcome, which he admitted. Back to therapy. I hope he does it.


  8. I disagree with your assessment, Bert, of the things Tiger did well. In order:

    1. “He apologized.” Yes, he did, several months after his deplorable behavior was made public. If he felt that owning up to his mistakes through a public apology was necessary, it could have been done immediately. Did he really need that long to realize what he did was wrong and think about how to address it?

    2. “He was authentic and sincere.” I perceived the exact opposite. The occasional stare into the camera was certainly dramatic, but it smacked of professional coaching not sincere emotion.

    3. “He covered the bases.” Which ones? What questions do you feel he answered? Your statement is rather vague. Perhaps I’ll respond differently if you are more specific on this point.

    I’m not a fan of the prepared statement, press conference apology. Fold up the paper and speak to me from the heart, Tiger, if that is truly where you are coming from. So what if you stumble around a little and don’t appear as polished. At least then I won’t be left with the feeling that this has all been manufactured by an army of big-dollar crisis management experts.

    Thanks for kicking off the conversation, Bert.


  9. I agree that his smile beaming brightly when he hugged the woman to (our) right of his mother was completely off balance with the attempt to show contrite behavior. At the same time, this must have been a huge load off his chest, so the relief may have been coming through there. Unlike you, I believe his anger at the media was a good one and well-directed one. Paparazzi pursuing his children is flat out wrong. Along with you, I agree that this should have not been about his foundation or even about his sponsors, but about his sharing his remorse over his personal actions. In terms of communicating this message, he came across as authentic. Reading is not a bad thing, especially when having to communicate this type of message…

  10. Was he believable?

    I have no idea.

    For his entire public life – including his appearance on the Mike Douglas Show when he was three – he’s been a created and crafted image.

    I don’t know the real Tiger Woods any more than I know the real Samuel Clemens. Wait, I know Twain better because he left more of himself out in the public domain.

    So many will see Tiger’s apology as an affront, because everything up until now has been a front. Just not enough baseline for judgment. Time will fix that.