Should you admit your mistakes?

Here in Singapore, one of the famous spots for dining is the Arab Street. It is filled with several restaurants whose cuisine are of Middle Eastern tastes. To make the whole place even better, it is filled with several shops that sell goods/products from this region, namely, carpets, glasses, vases, ceramic plates etc.

Few years ago, my wife and I went for a stroll in the evening before we dined. One particular shop caught our eye. It was that of the art. After spending some time in the shop, we bought a beautiful ceramic plate with hand crafted art. It was so good that we both instantly fell in love with. So much so that we wanted to buy few of them and get them shipped to our folks back home in India. The shopkeeper said the piece is very sensitive and he wouldn’t advice doing so. Ah well, alright. We got back home with the plate. All was well. After few months, while I was trying to get some stuff off the shelf, this plate that was wrapped in a cover, fell down and I heard some sound of the cracking. At that very moment, I felt terrible followed by fear. Fear of confronting my wife that I had broken the plate. I was not ready to admit my mistake.

In one of the conferences that I attended pre-pandemic, I met with an affable person, president of a reputed school. The conference had exposed him to some novel technological solutions hitherto unheard in education. The gentleman had been asking a lot of questions to speakers and it showed he was totally involved in his passion project. Somewhere during our conversation, he admitted having erred in underestimating the power of technology in education and that he had sidelined demands for more investment in advance technology from his staff. He seemed to be repenting alone but his resolve to rectify his mistake seemed palpable even amidst the crowd. Few people, especially those at higher positions, find it comfortable to admit they have erred. An error in judgment, a mistake, being wrong is not everyone’s cup of tea. Pride is hard to swallow, more so when it has made friends with ego. Committing mistakes is one thing but admitting one is frustrating, embarrassing and cringe-worthy. It somehow makes the person feel a lesser human being, though it  may not be the case.

Why do people hesitate to admit they have been wrong

  1. The biggest reason is the fear of being seen as immature and incapable of being correct at all times. They feel that being seen as fallible means you are one among the hundreds below you. It someone makes them feel robbed of their invincibility
  2. People take efforts to justify mistakes even in the light of the obvious. This further complicates matters
  3. Admitting you have been wrong takes a lot of courage which few people have. It’s one thing to be a leader but different altogether to be seen as a learning leader
  4. Insecurity is also another reason why people hesitate. They fear their admitting to being wrong will strengthen their competitors.
  5. It’s easier to brush mistakes aside for the time being than to admit it. Denying, ignoring or simply justifying a mistake comes up later as a bigger problem than the original

Mistakes and business

To err is human, they say. If someone was so perfect, he’d be God. In business, nothing is permanent, nothing is concrete and sure. It’s always a volatile world. Today we say it’s VUCA but volatility always existed. Hundreds of thousands of people are into businesses manning millions of tasks and operations. Mistakes are bound to happen in spite of being diligent and following the standards to the T. However, committing mistakes in business seems like a doomsday, though it’s not. Research shows that customers forgive businesses that admit mistake than those who don’t and compensate to customers. Some mistakes are unpardonable, like deceit, while some are worth corrections. Yes, there may be losses- monetary and otherwise, but nothing works wonders like a genuine and graceful apology. 

Why you should admit being wrong

No one wants to be seen as a loser. Mistakes are not unpardonable all the times. They arise out of varied causes like error in judgment, poor or lack of necessary information, being underprepared, faulty systems and machinery or even plain happenstance. Whatever the reason, admitting to a mistake is a braveheart’s expertise when done the right way upholding your dignity while being apologetic.

  1. It shows you’re human and can err. You have taken all precautions and followed due diligence, but things will go wrong as they sometimes will (yeah, the famous poem).
  2. It shows your integrity and your strength in being seen as vulnerable
  3. It shows you are willing to rectify matters.
  4. It demonstrates your commitment to the cause
  5. It builds trust and loyalty among your stakeholders

7 Tips to admit your mistakes

Doing it gracefully surely is the key. In addition to that, I’ve observed the following also play a key role when you want to admit your mistake:

  1. Correct time: Do not waste time in admitting you erred. To soon or too late makes it meaningless. Gauge the situation and when you see you have made a mistake and need to come out in the open with it, don’t waste time. Absolutely don’t try to pass the buck or shy from admitting, never even blame others for something you have done.
  2. Show genuineness: Anyone can smell a fake apology. Sincerity shows in letter and demeanor of the person.
  3. Own the mistake (accountability):It’s the sign of a true leader who takes blame when things go wrong and shares credit when you succeed. Why else would ministers resign when public affairs go haywire, they could easily pass the buck saying it’s all the department’s wrongdoing.
  4. Act on correcting: An apology would lose its steam if not accompanied by action to correct the mistake. Take quick measures. In fact, great leaders begin corrective actions even before they apologize.
  5. Correct medium: If you have to admit a mistake and apologise, use the correct medium and the right platform. Take for example when Taylor Swift criticized Apple’s offer of free streaming to customers but not paying artists during that period, Apple’s SVP took to Twitter to put out a sweet tweet – We hear you Taylor Swift and Indie artists. Love, Apple. Not only did it diffuse the situation, it in fact made it an endearing gesture. When things go wrong at a personal level, admit in person.
  6. Use your mistake for your advantage: Who says one must pay to learn, some lessons come free. Like mistakes. They’re part of your learning curve and great leaders make them the stepping stones. Laugh at them, share the mistakes and make fun on yourself. That way, you not only show you learned, you are also seen as wise and intelligent, someone who keeps learning.
  7. Don’t stop trying:Just because something went wrong once (or more than once) doesn’t justify giving up. Instead, use the mistakes as lessons, just the way Edison famously said that he learned that the 1000 things don’t work before he found what does. Never stop working, keep your head held high. A mistake is not the end of your story, it’s just a comma.

Businesses spend billions in building brands and reputation is at the core of their brand equity. That is why when someone makes a mistake, the first impulse is to ignore or hide it. However, it may always be the best strategy. Admitting being wrong and moving ahead is the key to a sustainable success.

Oh and as for that plate that I broke? My wife found out and she confronted me. I ended up admitting my mistake. I then had to pay a hefty price for it. That is a story for another day!

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