In case you've been hiding under a rock recently, the New England Patriots have been accused of using deflated footballs during the team's AFC Championship win last Sunday over the Indianapolis Colts. Although the true impact of the (alleged) infraction is debated, it's a clear violation of NFL rules, and the league has already begun an investigation. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady held a press conference yesterday to address the allegations. He denied having anything to do with the controversy.
I can't say whether or not Tom Brady is telling the truth. (You can find a transcript of the video here.) But watching his interview, I thought of how I would deal with his communication style if this were a potential business deal. Whether our job is judging a fellow negotiator, a sales pitch, or an interviewee, it's important to look for signs to help us make good decisions.
Here are five quotes and lessons derived from Tom Brady's press conference that would have sent me running in the opposite direction:
1. Tough questions deserve definitive answers.
Q: This has raised a lot of uncomfortable conversations for people around this country who view you as their idol. The question they're asking themselves is, 'What's up with our hero?' Can you answer right now, is Tom Brady a cheater?
TB: I don't believe so. I feel like I've always played within the rules. I would never do anything to break the rules. I believe in fair play and I respect the league...
The problem? Brady doesn't answer the question definitively.
I spoke with Pamela Meyer, author of Lie-Spotting--ProvenTechniques to Detect Deception, and she had this to say:
"People who are falsely accused of wrongdoing usually get really upset, not shrink into their chair. And if you ask what should happen to the person who did "x" (in this case deflate the balls), the honest person is likely to recommend much stricter punishment."
Imagine you're conducting an interview:
You: We really like you for this position. There's only one problem--we heard from your previous employer that you stole money from the company. Is that true?
Interviewee: I don't believe so. I feel like I haven't done anything like that.
Would you be convinced? Didn't think so.
2. You gotta know your stuff.
Q: Do you know the difference between an under-inflated ball and an over-inflated ball? Did you notice a difference in the balls used in the first half and second half?
TB: From the first half to the second half, I didn't think twice about it. I didn't put one thought into the football at that point. Once I approve the ball, like I said, that's the ball that I expect out there on the field. It wasn't even a thought...I just assumed that they were exactly the same: first half, second half.
There are a lot of problems with this answer, but the one I'll focus on is the fact that Brady claims to not know the difference in his equipment.
Whether sports equipment, computer software, or a hammer and nails, we work with our tools every day. Even the slightest variation should be obvious to us within minutes. Of course, Brady makes other comments through the interview that seem to contradict these (in my opinion). But this answer alone would throw up some red flags in my mind.
3. Don't give up on getting answers you need.
Q: Have you tried to find out why the balls were under-inflated?
TB: That's a great question...Yeah, I have questions, too. But there's nobody that I know that can answer the questions that I have.
If you don't know, you don't know. I can accept that. There are a lot of things we don't know.
But this answer is a cop-out. There's always somebody who can answer our questions, especially if you're the leader of a team and you're being accused of impropriety. If you give up on finding those answers, how do I know you're not going to give up on me--as a partner or employer?
4. Know your audience; know your message.
Q: For the fans that are watching and looking into that camera, what do you say?
TB: I'm not sure. What would you like me to say? I'm not quite sure.
There aren't a lot of circumstances in which the response 'What would you like me to say?' is appropriate.
5. Don't dodge the question.
Q: Have you been told they [league officials] will talk to you?
TB: I'm not sure.
Obviously this is a nerve-racking situation, and I know I've said my share of dumb things out of nervousness. But the question was simple: Have you been told, or haven't you?
I can't help but get the feeling that Brady's not being honest here. And after all the other signs, it would be a definite deal-breaker for me.
To Brady's defense, I'm not a professional football player. Maybe the way teams and the NFL communicate are much different than those of us in "the real world."
But if the question begins with 'Have you been told.. ," the answer is usually multiple choice. And 'I'm not sure' isn't one of the options.
Needless to say, this interview hasn't gone over well with many current and former NFL players. But I wish Mr. Brady the best. I hope he's telling the truth after all, and this is all just a huge misunderstanding. And if not, I hope he learns from this situation, just like we all should.
Because we all make mistakes.
But not many of us have to do it on a stage as big as this one.
What do you think? Would you consider making a deal with Brady after this interview? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or share the conversation.