Bimbo Banter

An Olympic-Sized Guarantee You’ll Regret Making

  • Crisis
  • August 15, 2016
  • by Laura Barnett

Lochte 0814

Just ten days ago, International Olympic Committee spokesperson Mario Andrada guaranteed that Olympians would compete safely in the 2016 games. That “guarantee” was a risky assurance in light of Zika fears, high crime reports and dilapidated housing for the athletes. However, Andrada fell into the trap of what we call “formula” questions – those that seem to demand a “yes” or “no” answer. He guaranteed the athletes’ safety and we now see how problematic that can be.

Early Sunday morning, the news broke that Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and several teammates were robbed at gunpoint. Not only that, it was also reported that the IOC tried to deny Lochte’s allegations.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams told media, “I can tell you from Ryan Lochte’s mouth that the story is absolutely not true.”

Except that it was. The swimmers were at a party late Saturday night, celebrating the end of the swimming competition. On their way back to the Olympic village, several men dressed in police uniforms ordered them out of their taxi and robbed them at gunpoint.

Fortunately, the men were unharmed. However, it demonstrates the danger in guarantees. Instead of making a promise you probably can’t keep, we advise clients to use “acknowledgement phrases” – like “I wish I could,” or “I hope so,” and then repeat the word “guarantee” but attach it to a truthful and positive commitment. Andrada could have truthfully said, “I wish I could, but can I guarantee we are using the utmost precaution in keeping all of our athletes safe.”

We said we would watch the Olympics closely to see if Andrada’s guarantee would come back to haunt him. Unfortunately, it only took ten days to do so.

**An update and more communication lessons following the discovery that Lochte's story may be less than truthful:

While we're still not confident in Mario Andrada's original guarantee (green pools? bullet holes in vehicles? Zika?), see Lochte's apology "I over-exaggerated" as a major lesson in what not do. The only favor's he's done are in taking some of the heat and attention off IOC and Brazil and now calling into question any legitimate claims of safety concern.

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