Lance Armstrong Needs to Say “I’m Sorry.” Data Says Apologies Work.

The New York Times reports that the cycling champion Lance Armstrong is weighing his options on whether or not he should admit to using banned performance enhancing drugs during his cycling career. Armstrong, who has strongly denied the doping charges, was recently stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Lance Armstrong Apology

The next step is clear. Lance Armstrong needs to say “I’m sorry.”   

Ironically, the cancer survivor may owe more to the medical community than his life. Since several studies from various healthcare systems indicate that apologizing works, Armstrong would be wise to once again heed the advice of doctors.

• In the Dec. 21, 1999, Annals of Internal Medicine, the Lexington Veterans Administration Hospital demonstrated that it could cut the cost of malpractice claims simply by apologizing for medical mistakes.  From 1990 to 1996, the Lexington VA had 88 claims and paid an average $15,622 per claim, compared with a $98,000 average at VA hospitals without “I’m sorry” policies.

• University of Michigan Health System adopted a disclosure, apology, and compensation policy, cutting litigation costs by $2 million a year and new claims by more than 40%.

• In 2006, the Harvard School of Medicine’s 16 affiliated teaching hospitals developed the following approach for talking about adverse events:

Immediately after the event

• Acknowledge the event.
• Express regret.
• Take steps to minimize further harm.
• Explain what happens next.
• Commit to investigate and find out why the adverse event occurred.

Later follow-up

• Disclose the results of the internal investigation.
• Apologize if there is an error or system failure.
• Make changes to prevent the failure from recurring.
• Provide continuing emotional support to the patients and health professionals involved.

Psychology Today offers some powerful tips on giving a meaningful apology, which must communicate the three R’s: regret, responsibility and remedy.

“Regret: statement of regret for having caused the hurt or damage

While your intention may not have been to cause harm, you recognize that your action or inaction nevertheless did hurt this person. This regret needs to be communicated. This includes an expression of empathy with an acknowledgement of the injustice you caused.

 Responsibility: an acceptance of responsibility for your actions

This means not blaming anyone else and not making excuses for what you did. For an apology to be effective it must be clear that you are accepting total responsibility for your action or inaction. Therefore, your apology needs to include a statement of responsibility.

 Remedy: a statement of willingness to remedy the situation

While you can’t undo the past, you can repair the harm you caused. Therefore, a meaningful apology needs to include a statement in which you offer restitution, or a promise to take action so that you will not repeat the behavior.”

According to the publication, unless all three of these elements are present, the other person will sense that something is missing in your apology and he or she may feel shortchanged.

Lance, now’s the time to come clean.

(Source: Success Communications Group is a full-service public relations firm based in New Jersey.)