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The Psychology of Saying Sorry

by Eve Ash

07 March 2011

At 3am on a hot Saturday morning I watched the Tiger Woods apologise to a global audience - live!


A. Because I am a keen golfer?
B. Because I love Tiger Woods?
C. I was intrigued by his infidelity?

I played golf for about 3 years until my golf clubs were stolen, then took the opportunity to stop trying. It was a great disappointment that I didn't love golf, I could have but my game was destroyed at the Burnley Golf Course a few years ago by a freak event. I was playing my usual erratic game - dumb and promising. My friend, who was encouraging me to think positively, told me to use my own techniques for thinking positively. We were on the 6th hole:

BURNLEY - Hole 6/15 Par 3, 117m

A simple straight Par 3. The rough off the back of the green is usually very long and can be difficult to play out of if you go through the green, if you can find your ball! The green has a bowl in the centre so if you go high it will be caught by the raised back. On the left there are a couple of humps that can cause a ball to careen off to the left, so aim for the centre...

She told me I was using the wrong club, but that's par for the course with me. Anyway, remarkably the ball landed on the green then disappeared. I said to my friend \"where is it?\" and she was yelling \"IN THE HOLE! HOLE IN ONE!\" It ruined my game forever because I had a powerful script in my head: 'I will never be able to do that again!'

So I don't love golf, and I don't love Tiger Woods, although I do admire his ability to continuously do well at golf tournaments. And his infidelity - yes it's intriguing, maybe because it was so secret for so long, or so many, or such a high pedestal to come down from. But that's not why I watched.

I listened because I was invited to give a psychologist opinion live on the ABC Overnights show. Imagine what it would be like to say to a world wide audience: \"I am sorry. Yes I was unfaithful, I had affairs, I cheated. What I did is not acceptable.\"

Saying sorry is so important; it enables people to move forward, so at least he did that. If I was his sponsor I would want him to say sorry and get back to what he is good at - golf. I have been amazed at the amount of coverage after his 13 minute apology virtually stopped the NY stock exchange! Anyway I think it's a good thing. It doesn't mean his relationship with his wife is repaired or ever will be. But that's for them to work out. It has certainly brought out anger from many people, especially women. I am sure Tiger Woods has inflamed and created a ripple effect in other damaged relationships.

Let's do some training on apologising:

QUICK TIPS - How to Apologise

Do apologise as quickly as possible
Do give the other person/s the opportunity to vent their anger
Do let the person/s know you understand why they're angry
Don't make excuses
Don't offer the cheap, quick, easy apology
Don't rush the apology (ideally listen to people who are upset with you!)
Don't apologise and then do the same thing again
Don't expect everything to be back to normal straight away
Do take corrective action while saying sorry


When people don't forgive and hold onto anger and resentment it can have a serious impact on mental and physical health

Forgiveness is a wonderful skill that not many people genuinely do from their heart

Clearly during the time that Tiger Woods was cheating in his relationship and being deceptive and breaking trust - his work performance remained right at the top. That made me wonder is there any link between deception in a private relationship and deception at work. Is someone who is happy to break trust with their closest partner someone who can still highly value trust at work? I am sure there are many examples from both sides.

Being the daughter of an infidelity adds another dimension for me. I wouldn't be here if my mother had not had a secret relationship with my biological father.

It's a complex world of relationships we live with and as far as workplaces go - in many ways it's often best not to know who is having secret liaisons because just the knowing can change a good work relationship.

Trust takes time to build and once broken is often hard to repair.

One thing we do know is that one of the things people want MOST from their partners and their managers is HONESTY.

Let's go forward and build TRUST!