Leadership + Management | By Scott Schulte,

The Beauty of Making Mistakes

Nobody likes to mess up. And the only thing that seems worse than messing up is having to admit it, acknowledge it, or talk about it. Seriously. Who wants to admit they made a mistake? Especially at work!

But here’s the secret truth few of us want to see: Your workplace relationships can actually improve when you learn to admit your mistakes.

For real?

Yes, it sounds counterintuitive. Because when you mess up, you feel bad. Plus, you assume others will be disappointed in you. And they may be. But you can be sure that disappointment will multiply exponentially if you refuse to confess to or acknowledge what you’ve done.

If you’ve messed up with an employee, client, or colleague and your plan is to just try and ignore it— good luck.

That mistake will sit there, giant and heavy, like the proverbial elephant in the room. Everyone can see it, but no one wants to risk bringing it up. By not taking responsibility immediately, you’ve doubled down on the damage. Now you’re not just dealing with the fallout from your mistake. At this point, you’ve also got yourself a credibility issue, and that’s a much bigger problem.

About apologies

When you own up to a mistake, you’re accepting responsibility for your actions, as opposed to simply apologizing away bad behavior.

Apologies work when they’re sincere and infrequent. In other words, getting caught up in a constant cycle of mistakes and apologies isn’t going to get you anywhere. But when you own up to a mistake and subsequently change your behavior to eliminate the need for future apologies, you can experience substantial growth. The kind of growth your team can see and appreciate.

The upside of screwing up

Admitting your mistakes can actually have some pretty significant benefits.

Most people recognize how difficult it is to take responsibility when you screw something up and will appreciate the effort on your part to come clean. And while there may be some anger about the issue at hand, being honest about such things can actually help build trust and reinforce character.

Even better, instead of wasting everyone’s time trying to figure out who caused the chaos, or fuming because that person refused to ‘fess up, your team is now free to focus on mitigating damage, finding solutions, and moving forward.

If there are specific workplace processes that played a role in causing the problem, you can revisit those also— when everyone is calm and the primary issue has been resolved.

We’re only human

As a team, we’re all better off when we are willing to admit our individual failures, adjust behaviors, and work toward solutions. And let’s face it. We’d probably all rather work with someone who isn’t afraid to make the occasional mistake and be on the level about it.

Honesty, trust, and credibility. What’s not to like?

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