Tony Robbins VS #MeToo: Analysis Of Communication Failure

We talked about Tony Robbins already on this website before.

We summarized some of his best work, featured Awaken the Giant Within in our best self-help books list, and also reviewed his power dynamics with Gary Vaynerchuck.

As a great influencer Robbins makes for a very good case study indeed.

However, nobody’s perfect, and Tony recently had a major, major communication blunder with his #metoo movement embroilment.

Let’s quickly review here what were his mistakes.

1. Picks a Touchy Subject as an Example

Tony Robbins wanted to touch upon two different topics:

  1. Victim mentality and why people should avoid it
  2. People who fake harassment, pain, or wrongdoings to get attention

He could have picked a lot of examples for either of them. But he probably wanted to pick something recent and attention-grabbing.
What better than the #meToo movement?

However, the #MeToo movement is also a controversial subject. Especially when you go against it.
Up until here, nothing wrong though.
We should not shy away from controversial topics if they can help us make a sensible point.

2. Generalizes His Attacks to WHOLE Movement

The problem with Ton Robbins’ comment is that he makes it sound as if they apply to the whole movement, not a few bad apples.

How could he have avoided that and still used the #MeToo movement as an example?
Well, he could have prefaced his comments.

For example, if Tony Robbins had said something like:

The MeToo movement is doing a great, great job at finally taking to the fore a problem that for too long the world has turned a blind eye on.
Too many sleazy men have been abusing their power to harass and extort sexual favors. Shame on them!
At the same time, as for any large movement, there are some who are jumping on that bandwagon and falsely accusing people in an effort to get certainty and significance.
I am speaking to this people when I say that if you are trying to…

Now even with that preface, some people would have still not liked his example.
However, probably nobody would have spoken against it and nobody would have taken it too badly.

Without prefacing his comments, however, it’s only normal that many felt like he was attacking the whole movement. Which includes plenty of women who have faced real harassment, ranging from actual rape to annoying remarks.

3. Cuts The Woman Off

When a brave woman called Nanine speaks up, Robbins does not even pretend to listen.
That felt, to Nanine and to most of the audience, rude and overpowering.

4. Fails to Address The Real Issue

What Robbins says replies is also way off the mark.
He says:

Not for you personally. What you see is people making themselves significant by making somebody else wrong and getting certainty.

Tony Robbins again perseveres on his initial communication blunder. He sounds as if all women behind the #metoo movement are making up stories.

Weak, Off-Mark Step Back

Then he adds:

And there is nothing wrong with that, it just won’t make you happy.

This is a weak step back.
If Tony Robbins is making the case of women making stories up, then there is something wrong with that behavior. That was NOT what he had to take a step back on.
What he should have corrected was his stance that all women are making stories up, not that it’s wrong of some women to falsely accuse people.

Bullying Tactics

Not only Tony Robbins doesn’t listen to Nanine, but deploys a few tactics to isolate her and browbeat her.
He uses the example of Jesus to make his point, which lends “holiness” to his position. And he uses his trademark signature of getting people on his side by saying:

Say yes and raise your hand

When the crowd raises their hands (and few seem to do it here) Robbins is not only shoring support for his position, but he is roiling the crowd against Nanine.
That must have felt really bad for her.

5. Physical Push Back

Finally, Robbins calls Nanine on the aisle.
My guess is that from a power dynamic perspective, Robbins probably thought he could not “lose” that battle without losing too much of his authority.
And, probably, he thought he was also right and was now going to show it to her and to everyone else.

However, the whole idea of pushing her back was boneheaded, to begin with.
He’s a huge dude. And there he is, physically pushing around a woman who has been the victim of abuse. Of course, that image wasn’t going to go unnoticed by his critics.

Robbins Sounds Like Justifying Rapists

Robbins tells Nanine to put his fist out and then starts physically pushing her back, saying:

Why are you pushing back? Why are you pushing so hard?
When you push someone else it doesn’t make you safer.
It just makes them angry

That sounds a lot like he is suggesting her -and women- to stop pushing back. He probably didn’t mean it that way, but it definitely sounds like he’s telling women to put up or shut up.

I am NOT saying that Robbins justifies harassment or that he tells women to put up. Quite the opposite: the guy has done a lot of good for the world and I admire him.
What I am saying though is that he SOUNDED like he was OK with the status quo. And he sounded like he was speaking against the #metoo culture of whistleblowing and speaking up.


Tony Robbins has a strong, raspy voice.
While that might have helped people to hear him and to sound more authoritative, it was not helping him here.

He only sounded more aggressive and intimidating, as the woman indeed commented.

6. PR-Sounding Apology

His apology was very good… Especially the part when he says “I still have much to learn”. Awesome!
But a HUGE piece was missing to make it sound credible.
First, read it out, here I quote it:

At a recent Unleash the Power Within (UPW) event in San Jose, my comments failed to reflect the respect I have for everything Tarana Burke and the #MeToo movement has achieved. I apologize for suggesting anything other than my profound admiration for the #MeToo movement. Let me clearly say, I agree with the goals of the #MeToo movement and its founding message of “empowerment through empathy,” which makes it a beautiful force for good.

For 40 years I’ve encouraged people to grow into the men and women they dream to be. I watch in awe as more and more women all over the world find their voice and stand up and speak out. All of our growth begins with learning. My own started with a childhood marked by abuse. I am humbled that others have looked to the path I have taken in the decades since as lessons in their own journey. But sometimes, the teacher has to become the student and it is clear that I still have much to learn.

I teach that “life happens for you, not to you” and what I’ve realized is that while I’ve dedicated my life to working with victims of abuse all over the world, I need to get connected to the brave women of #MeToo.

I am committed to being part of the solution.

I am committed to helping to educate others so that we all stay true to the ideals of the #MeToo movement. I will never stop examining my own words and actions to make sure I am staying true to those ideals. That begins with this brief statement but will not end until our goals are reached.

What was missing?
The initial idea that first got him to criticize the fake voices in the #MeToo movement is missing.
This apology feels like too much of a U-turn.
And when something feels too much of a U-turn, what do people think?

Exactly, they think it’s fake and PR.

Indeed THE most highly rated and upvoted comment on that post says exactly that. That his apology was a big PR stunt.

tony robbins metoo apology reaction


Tony Robbins is a man who has helped many and he is someone who has done a huge amount of good.

However, that is not to say that he is perfect and does nothing wrong. And even as good as he is in leadership and communication, he makes mistakes like all the rest of us.
Tony Robbins bashing the #MeToo movement is such an example.

Overall, I think Tony Robbins could also limit his usage of “say hi” and push people to conform to him. That’s annoying to most independent thinkers -like yours truly-, and double annoying when he does it to get support against someone (in this case, Nanine).

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