#LochMess, and a lesson in public apologies

How a proper apology can make or break a public figure.

When fears of athletes being robbed at the Rio Olympics seemingly came to fruition, with a breaking story of Ryan Lochte and fellow U.S swimmers being held at gunpoint after taking a taxi back to the Olympic village, the International Olympics Committee had some explaining to do, as IOC President Thomas Bach previously expressed confidence in protecting athletes. But, as scattered stories unfolded and speculation reined, authorities were able to determine the athlete’s story was fabricated and #LochMess began, a la Brian Williams.

Olympics

To make a long story short: Lochte and teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen went to a gas station, burst down a bathroom door and vandalized the station’s property. An armed security guard confronted the swimmers and they paid an undisclosed amount of money for the damage.

That doesn’t sound like the original, traumatic, guns-blazing story Lochte first portrayed, does it? Caught in the lie, Lochte elected to issue the most non-apologetic apology of all time. Here’s a brief sampling:

“I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend — for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics. I wanted to share these thoughts until it was confirmed that the legal situation was addressed and it was clear that my teammates would be arriving home safely.”

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Lesson: When apologizing, being sincere and honest is important. While Lochte admitted his communication lacked candidness, his “apology” falls flat. Here’s what a proper public apology does:

  1. Tells the whole truth: We live in a world where everything is eventually exposed, and lying and half-truths only stoke the flames. Be forthcoming!
  2. Expresses remorse: If your apology doesn’t start with “I apologize” or “I’m sorry,” you’re doing it wrong. We’ll give Lochte a bronze medal here since he got this one right.
  3. Takes responsibility for actions: Lochte falls off the podium here, never mentioning his gas station antics or how he purposefully mislead and falsified his story.
  4. Makes amends: Lochte needs to repair the damage he caused with a number of groups, from the gas station owner to the Brazilian authorities and the other Olympians who had the spotlight taken from them at their proudest moment. He could start with teammate Jimmy Feigen, who paid $11,000 to avoid prosecution of the four U.S. swimmers.

Remember, to err is part of being human. But how we respond to our mistakes says a lot about us.

Looking for a how to on you crisis communications strategy? We’d be happy to help you out!

Lochte wink

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