While a large audience waited to hear what Lance Armstrong would say in the Oprah interview, I was watching to see how he looked when he said it.
Here’s what I saw (and heard) that indicates withholding, not taking responsibility, and (in some cases) lying.
Head shakes ‘no’ while making declarative statements. (One such place was when Armstrong was saying, “I deserve it” when referring to the negative backlash he’s facing.)
Nodding yes while declaring a negative. (Especially telling when he states, “It’s not true.”)
Compressed lips, licking lips, hand covering mouth and rubbing upper lip. All stress signals and signs of withholding or a disinclination to comment.
Protective gestures like grabbing his top leg and creating a barricade between him and Oprah.
Expressions of contempt – the unilateral expression in which one side of the mouth turns up. (These were especially evident when Armstrong was discussing the UCI – the International Cycling Union).
Then there were a variety of verbal and nonverbal behaviours to minimize the severity of his actions, including:
Shoulder shrugs (as if to say, “no big deal”).
Use of levity as an attempt to lighten the situation: “I may have called her (Betsy Andreas) a crazy bitch, but I never said she was fat.”
Minimizing statements like, “I am flawed. I think we all have our flaws.” On taking testosterone: “I almost felt justified . . .” And in commenting on why Floyd Landis (his teammate and protégé) went public with accusations, Armstrong states, “My comeback didn’t sit well with Floyd.” Later, when asked about the fact that he sued so many people who were being honest, Armstrong labels it “A major flaw.”
Instead of taking full responsibility, Armstrong uses distancing statements like “They have been hurt too badly,” not “I hurt them too badly.” Likewise, when discussing Emma O’Reilly, he says, “She’s one of these people who got run over.”
Instead of personalizing, he talks about why he sued so many people who were telling the truth, by saying his “territory, team, and reputation” were being threatened – not that he personally felt threatened.
Perhaps most telling of all, when Oprah asks if he sued O’Reilly, Armstrong answers “To be honest, Oprah, we’ve sued so many people . . .” (I am suspicious of anyone who begin a sentence with “to be honest,” as they usually aren’t going to be!)
Armstrong said he never felt like he was cheating during the years he used banned drugs to win the Tour de France seven times. “I had this exercise because I kept hearing I’m a drug cheat. I’m a cheat. I’m a cheater,” Armstrong said. “And I went in and just looked up the definition of cheat. . . . And the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”
I believe that he believes this to be true.
I don’t believe him (hand rubbing, halting speech, etc.) when he denies pressuring other players to dope.
That’s how I evaluate it. What did you see?
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach, change-management consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. Her column is distributed through www.troymedia.com.