Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to be paying attention to experts when they share what it takes to offer a sincere apology. I suppose he ought to – after all, he spent a term being that kind of leader: one who leans on apology to help boost his public image.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. In fact, some of the biggest challenges in society happen because individuals suck at apologizing.
But let’s face it, politicians are invested in being re-elected. That requires them to look good in the realm of public opinion, especially when leading up to an election. Maybe that’s why so many voters refer to this period as the ‘silly season.’
In the article When an Apology is Not an Apology, John Amodeo makes a great point: “For people who are attached to their self-image, it’s a quandary when they mess up. If they admit their mistakes, they might look bad. They may make the calculation it’s best to cover it up and push onward. However, if they don’t acknowledge their mistake, they might also look bad. They may be viewed as arrogant and self-centred, which might also damage the false image they’ve been promoting.”
Perhaps this is one of the contributing factors to why Trudeau’s popularity is falling after his brown-face apology. Skepticism is growing among voters regarding the sincerity of his ongoing apologies. Combine that with a lacklustre record of fulfilling promises and voters are watching him with a suspicious eye.
As a body language expert, I was asked to review the videos from the brown-face debacle. As I dissected the footage, I watched for signs of treachery, deceit or distancing. It’s a tricky thing because there’s no obvious or consistent strategy for detecting a professional lie.
An analyst looks for obvious clues such as if the speaker is able to hold eye contact. Do viewers notice any excessive sweating? Are head movements synchronized with the message being repeated? In other words, does the head shake no while the mouth says no? Are there any specific pacifying movements detected throughout the exchange – hand rubbing, clothing tugging, etc.?
Trudeau is quite practised at uttering apologies and dodging uncomfortable questions. Or simply ignoring them. No judgment on this, just a statement of fact.
He made it a pretty common practice in this term of office and, as a result, his apologies have a hum to them. They flow easily. No excessive blinking. No departures from the ‘can say’ statements. He tends to stick to bullet points and avoids being pulled into a debate about them.
Although one detects stress points as the media repeatedly asks the same questions in slightly different formats, the PM sticks to the script. This was true in his interview with Global National’s Dawna Friesen.
When determining the sincerity of any apology, regardless of who’s delivering it, one needs to be mindful of micro gestures – those fleeting moments when a look flashes and fades quickly, for example. Micro gestures are a challenge for the speaker because they’re the unconscious response to stress appearing before the brain’s gatekeeper can shut it down. They’re also a challenge for the listener as they occur rapidly, disappearing equally fast.
In all interviews I reviewed, the micro gesture of contempt appeared to continually emerge from Trudeau. An emotion of superiority is detected with the rising of one side of the mouth into a sneer or smirk. Sometimes I call this smugness. It shows up consistently when Trudeau speaks of having hurt Canadians. It’s a brief smirk that’s soon flashing away. Then he regains composure, moving back to the talking points quickly.
Perhaps the issue with any candidate is not about the apology, but whether you believe the candidate can act in the best interest of the country. As I watch the way we attack political candidates over and over in the media, it causes me to wonder how many qualified and talented individuals opt not to run for office.
It takes a lot of guts to withstand the pressure and scrutiny of public opinion.
Is Trudeau being insincere in yet another apology? Or is this issue enough to doubt his ability to be consistent and transparent?
You be the judge on election day.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.