Analyzing a Bad Apology
I was noticing the curious case of a Jane Seo who was caught cheating during a half marathon race in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in early 2017. She cut the course and then went on to bike the course later to justify and cover-up her missing times. The unfortunate incident was even more exacerbated by the fact that in her photo finish, her GPS watch shows a distance a couple miles short of the 13.1 miles of a half marathon. This is not an article about getting caught, its about an apology, her apology, which I’d like to take a look at because there are often a lot of ways in which we fail to make a great apology.
An apology really has four main thrusts:
- Identify the relationship.
- Identify how you broke trust with group or individual.
- How you intended to change behavior or fix relationship.
- Ask for forgiveness.
And no one likes that moment where we stand in front of someone and apologize and feel exposed. This is what I call the “white hot center” of an apology. It should be painful and you can’t move through this moment quickly. This is the moment where you have to explicitly detail what you did. And our problem is that we don’t want to expose ourselves to this moment, so we tend to have some bad strategies which actually hurt the relationship more. Nothing worse than a lukewarm apology. So remember:
- An apology is not about your feelings.
- Forgiveness will not be immediate.
- You may have to answer questions.
- You may not have your apology accepted.
- You cannot make excuses.
- You cannot deflect.
So given this, let’s look at the apology Ms. Seo crafted to her running team, sponsors, and competitors.
This first thing you notice is she starts off great. Life is about choices, but then before we even get out of the first sentence she has already made an excuse: “I wasn’t feeling well”. And this excuse-making enters the second paragraphs as well “I got swept away”. The third paragraph seems innocuous, but really its comes off as deflection. Deflection is an attempt to stand next to unsullied groups: well-deserving runners. Then we get into what I call wordsmithing: she admits to “foolishness” – you mean lying?, she takes “full credit” – you mean responsibility?
In the end, this apology, while not to me, could have been half as long and 5x more powerful.
My attempt at a better apology:
I understand that as member of <running team> I am accountable for following the team rules and the rules of every race.
[trust broken – be specific]
Unfortunately, I failed to follow the rules by cheating during the half marathon on Sunday Feb 20. I purposely:
- Did not run the full length of the course.
- Later, decided to bike the course to cover my missing times.
- Took a second place trophy when I knew I had cheated.
- Continued to lie, after the fact, and on multiple occasions, until eventually caught.
I have spoken with our team leadership and they have revoked my membership. Additionally, I have spoken with race organizers and have been DQ from this race. I am also going to take a break from competitive racing until such time as I come to a full understanding of the pain I have caused my teammates and how I lost site of running within the rules.
Please accept my apology.