Ok, I admit that I am sitting here watching both parts of the Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong and I really want to turn it off and we don’t need to go into the reasons. Yet from my purely clinical, therapist perspective, I am fascinated. This is not meant to be a statement in general about anything surrounding Lance Armstrong. This is only my observations on why his communication patterns don’t seem to convey that he has truly, deep down accepted responsibility for his actions, at least some of them. Maybe he has. Regardless, I’ve got two communication strategies that you can use to help convey responsibility.
First, use the first person. Use your “I statements” as we mental health professionals call it. Don’t refer to yourself as “we” or “that guy” or “someone.” If you do, you are distancing yourself from that statement and as a consequence from responsibility. Take some examples. He got bullied versus I bullied him. We broke the vase versus I broke the vase. When competing, you want to win versus when competing, I want to win. What ones do you feel convey more responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions?
Second, use “and” not “but.” I thought about counting how many times Lance Armstrong has said “but” in this interview. I just couldn’t keep track. (Side note from my non-therapist self, this could make a good drinking game.) “But” is a word that diminishes and invalidates everything that has come before. “And” is inclusive. It says that you recognize and understand what came before AND have something to add or a different perspective.
So, whether you are accepting responsibility for doping or for stealing a cookie, use your “I statements” and “ands.” These should outweigh your “third-person statements” and “buts” and in my perception, they did not in the Lance Armstrong interview, at least regarding certain topics.
“I statements” and “ands” show that you are accepting responsibility and that you recognize and respect, even though maybe not accept, various perceptions and thoughts. And if you feel you are struggling, take a step back and truly evaluate your level of ownership of your behavior.