This past weekend I was walking into a building as my daughter slept in the stroller. I came upon a group that was blocking the main aisle into the structure and couldn’t get around.
I made the kindest effort I could to say “excuse me” a few times to the person who was most immediately in our way, hoping not to wake my daughter. She obviously did not see or hear me, since her head was buried in a phone.
Another member of her party noticed what was happening and tried to get her attention. When he finally did, she looked up at me and my daughter and frowned. She then went on typing into her phone, slowing beginning to move to the side (this took several seconds).
She never said a word, but the message was clear: “I’m annoyed that you interrupted me.”
Responses Are Remembered
It was a completely unimportant incident in my weekend, but I couldn’t help but get annoyed.
Not because she didn’t see us (after all, almost all of us have been that person). I was annoyed by the seemingly rude response of someone who was clearly in the way.
And then I got to thinking…
People get so frustrated with others in the workplace for almost exactly the same reason.
When You’re Wrong, Admit It
I can still remember situations from years ago when colleagues or managers were clearly in the wrong, but either weren’t able or willing to admit to their mistakes.
That’s why Dale Carnegie’s advice for us from How to Win Friends and Influence People is so essential:
If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
We’ve all wronged others. Once it’s apparent that we have, owning it makes all the difference.
Colleagues and managers who aren’t able to own their mistakes (or worse, attempt to blame others or bury the issue) lose credibility fast.
A true test of character is how you handle situations when you miss the mark.
No, It Doesn’t Make You Weak
When I talk with clients about admitting mistakes, two responses often come up:
People will think I’m weak.
I don’t know how to say it.
Think back to the most authentic leader you’ve ever worked for. Did you think they were weak when they admitted a mistake? Did you lose respect for them because they could say they were wrong?
On the contrary, most people I’ve talked about this topic report that colleagues and managers who were willing to admit a mistake were often the people they respected the most.
But, how to do it?
Don’t Say This
A huge error, perhaps worse than saying nothing, is to offer a non-apology apology. Here’s how it sounds:
I’m sorry that you felt like I didn’t get you the requirements more quickly. I was busy and had a lot going on.
Two major issues with the above.
First, you’re attempting to move the focus to how the other person responded to your mistake instead of owning your actions (not cool). Second, you’re making an excuse for why the error was justified in your mind (equally uncool).
Just because you verbalized the word “sorry” doesn’t mean you meant it or it’s been received that way. The above is more shaming than apologizing.
3 Steps to Admitting a Mistake
When it’s time to admit you’re wrong, following these three steps:
Start with the words, “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”
Articulate what you are apologizing for.
State what you’ll do going forward to prevent future wrongs.
A better version of the example above is:
I’m sorry for not getting you the requirements sooner. I realize that I didn’t do this in a timely manner and that it caused you frustration. I’ll add this now to my planning template so I get the information to you much sooner for all future projects.
It’s a Clear Path to Authenticity…
Lots of leaders have heard that they should be more authentic in the workplace. I once heard of someone showing family vacation photos before a major workplace presentation in a misguided effort to appear more “authentic.”
If you weren’t authentic already, vacation photos before an unrelated presentation won’t do it.
All of us have wronged others.
All of us have an opportunity to admit mistakes.
As such, we all can become more authentic by admitting when we’re wrong.
Not only do people who admit mistakes get branded as more authentic…
They save time and resources.
Countless hours are spent by organizations in finger-pointing, blaming, and debate. When someone admits they are wrong:
The blame game immediately ends.
Spend your time and resources fixing the problem and preventing future ones. If you do, you’ll serve your stakeholders more effectively and build a more authentic brand in the process.