We love to get things right. Stick the landing. Nail it. Sometimes we do. Often, we don’t.
The problem isn’t that we’re flawed or fallible, but that we have such an incredibly hard time acknowledging that fact. Because while we can all say we want to “fail upwards,” we don’t always act that way. “Most companies—like most people—don’t see themselves as promoting a work environment where mistakes are feared and avoided,” writes “New York Times” journalist Alisa Tugend, author of “Better By Mistake.” “They say they encourage risk-taking and innovation, but in reality, they don’t.”
What would happen if we put our money where our mouths are and really owned up to flaws, failings, and flat-out errors? Because while we’re all fated to make mistakes now and then, how we handle it can make a difference. Here’s the upside of owning your mistakes.
You get better at understanding (and preventing) them.
Krishna Pendyala, business adviser and founder of the ChoiceLadder Institute, says that what warps our perspective of our mistakes is “outcome bias”—the belief that if we get a good outcome, our decision must have been a good one. But the opposite can also happen: We get a bad outcome, even though the decisions that preceded it were solid—which may cause us to question something that works. The key, he says, is to separate process from outcome to really understand what contributed to the mistake. This makes it easier to own it. While you may have to fall on your sword, the goal is to prioritize learning for you and everyone involved, so you don’t have to make that mistake again.
You restore trust—and avoid a real crisis.
Pendyala tells the story of an executive who was ambushed in a meeting by an employee who should have prepped her in advance. This was a serious breach of protocol—and trust. Instead of ducking or dodging, the employee-owned up to the decision—and explained the process that led to it, while apologizing for the unfortunate outcome. The result? Trust was restored and their relationship repaired. Being able to clearly articulate what happened and why (without passing the buck) allows for more open, productive discussions, instead of a misunderstanding or lasting grudge.
You cultivate an atmosphere of support and learning.
Blame and omission don’t look good on anyone. And the best way to ensure that other people on your team own up to their mistakes is if you own up to your own. “What kind of example does that exhibit for your team and what kind of reputation are you building if (and when) your client figures out that there’s a problem?” writes Matthew Toren in “Entrepreneur” magazine. “By being proactive about the problem and honestly claiming your errors, you’re actually very likely to endear your staff and customers to you even more.”
You become less afraid of mistakes.
If you’re petrified of every misstep, you may be less willing to take a chance. And if fear of a mistake rules your every decision, that fear also rules you. That rigidity, says Tugend, is the sign of a fixed mindset. In “The Art of the Creative Mistake” on Medium, Tugend writes that mindset is everything. “Those with a fixed mindset believe they’re good at some things and bad at others and that won’t change,” she writes, while “a growth mindset allows one to see mistakes as inevitable and part of the learning process.”
“Ultimately,” writes Tugend, “the goal is not to feel great about mistakes—few people do—but to not feel devastated, to not beat yourself up, and to focus on what you learned. And to realize that playing it safe all the time is a sort of failure in itself.”