Last night, Ryan Lochte had a disastrous debut on Dancing with the Stars.
His dancing wasn’t great, but what really hurt him is his complete failure to understand what the American public needs from him in an apology.
According to Aaron Lazare, author of On Apology, people want one or more of 7 issues to be addressed when they receive an apology.
1. Restoration of respect and dignity
2. Assurances that they and the offender have shared values
3. Assurances that they are not at risk of further harm by the offender
4. Knowledge that the offender has suffered as a result of the offense
5. An opportunity to communicate their feelings about their suffering
6. A promise of adequate reparations
7. Assurances that they were not at fault
The first 5 factors are most applicable to Ryan Lochte’s situation. Ryan Lochte offended the dignity of the United States by embarrassing us on an international stage. I think that might be what stings most about his lies to the world. By delaying his apology and attempting to deny his lies at first, we have to question whether he shares our values—values like honesty, respecting public property, friendship, teamwork, maturity, and representing your country well when you are overseas, especially when you have major media attention on you.
Lochte is using Dancing with the Stars as an attempt to apologize. His logic seems to be that the show will give him a chance to apologize further, let people see his side of the story, let people see that he is a good guy. But he has now made the US anxious that he could create a further incident. Seeing Lochte again on a national stage hardly instills confidence.
He has indeed suffered as a result of his behavior. Lochte lost many lucrative endorsements and has been banned from competitive swimming for 10 months, a period of time that includes a world championship competition … but immediately appearing on a popular TV show minimizes the impression of suffering in the minds of the US public. It would have been wiser for Lochte to keep a low profile for a while.
And we saw last night what happens when people don’t have an opportunity to communicate their feelings about the attempts at apology—they find a way. In personal relationships, built up resentment can boil over into an unexpected fight. In Lochte’s case, protesters interrupted a live TV show.
Lochte is hardly alone in mishandling his apology. Few people—public figures or otherwise—apologize well. It is an intricate dance that we often oversimplify. I suspected this was not going to be a good move for him, but after last night, it seems pretty clear that there is not anything Ryan Lochte will be able to do during his time on Dancing with the Stars to endear him to the nation.