At first glance, the Lindsay Lohan saga is a trivial celebrity-related story that has little relevance for professionals in the world of business. However, upon closer examination, like in any difficult and challenging public controversy, there are some underlying communication lessons the rest of us can take away.
Simply put, Lindsay Lohan’s “performance” in court this past week in which she was ultimately hit with a 90-day jail sentence for failure to adhere to a court-mandated drug and alcohol counseling program, graphically demonstrates why excuse making, blame shifting and not taking responsibility for your actions rarely if ever works as a communication strategy. Forget about her histrionics, the sobbing and the overly animated facial gestures when hearing the judge’s verdict. What was really pathetic was listening to 24-year-old Lohan explain why she ignored countless direct and clear messages and edicts delivered from the court.
One of the excuses that Lohan used was that her drug and alcohol counselors didn’t inform her of the specific schedule in which she had to go once a week to the mandatory counseling sessions. That’s ridiculous. She was responsible, not the counselors, for her situation. Further, she said that she would have gone to counseling but she had to work, except she couldn’t document where she was working and what she was doing. (She was partying at the Cannes Film Festival during one scheduled session.) It got even more absurd when she said she missed a particular session (one of seven she missed in a short period of time) because her uncle had died. The problem is she never actually attended her uncle’s funeral.
Again, this column is not really about Lindsay Lohan or how certain celebrities are indulged and pacified to the point where they lose a sense of what’s real and important. Rather, it is a classic case of how the American public only has so much patience for people—be they in the public eye or not—who get opportunity after opportunity and then blow it.
It’s about how most of us just want to hear someone who consistently screws up communicating in a more honest and more forthright fashion. Something like this; “Your honor, I am totally responsible for my actions. I screwed up. I know I was warned before, but I didn’t take it seriously. I have a real problem with alcohol and I’m dealing with other substance issues. I’ve lost control of my life and I need help. No one else is to blame. I knew the consequences and I ignored them. I have no excuse.”
If Lindsay Lohan had said something even remotely like that, she wouldn’t be the laughing stock on YouTube that she is today. She wouldn’t be tabloid fodder to the degree that she is for communicating in court in such a babbling and childish fashion. All we want is for public personalities, professional colleagues and the people who matter in our lives to just communicate in a more candid and responsible fashion. I just don’t understand why it’s so hard when the facts are so clear cut. This is no gray area. We’re talking black and white—right and wrong—and every second we spend coming up with elaborate and lame excuses and explanations only tries the patience of those around us and saps any good will or benefit of the doubt one might have gained.
We can only hope that Lindsay Lohan can get better and deal with her demons. For the rest of us, just remember her courtroom performance and ask yourself how you would have dealt with such a situation? How would you have communicated under such pressure if you screwed up in such a big way? If it’s anything remotely similar to what she did, a serious examination is in order.