When You’re Wrong, Admit it Quickly and Emphatically

“When you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” If that sounds familiar it’s becau
se it’s advice that been around since 1935, the year Dale Carnegie published How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie observed the lives of successful people during his day and looked at what worked for him when he wrote that classic book. I call it a classic because so many books come and go but you can still find How to Win Friends and Influence People at any bookstore today, more than 70 years after it first came out! I highly recommend it.

The reason I chose this topic this week is twofold. First, admitting when you’re wrong shows weakness and vulnerability. Contrary to popular opinion, admitting weakness can actually help enhance your authority. The principle of authority tells us people typically look to those with superior knowledge when making decisions. If you want to be persuasive you need to establish your authority so people will listen to you. Authority is established by conveying expertise and credibility. You’re seen as more credible when you show your humanity, that you make mistakes and are honest enough to own up to them.

Dale Carnegie didn’t have social science experiments to fall back on when he told people to own up to their faults quickly but what that advice did was tap into the principle of authority. That’s why owning up to mistakes can be so powerful.

The other reason for this topic at this time is because of a mistake I recently made. I was working with my boss to send an email to some insurance agency owners. They were personalized with the name of each agency owner and agency name on each email. Without getting into technical detail, we used Microsoft Word and the “track changes” feature was left on. Every email went out with the correct name…and the incorrect name crossed out right next to it! Needless to say, as the one with the “technical expertise” on the project I was shocked. My boss was none too happy either since the email went out under his name.

We did the only thing we could; we got a note of apology out immediately. The email that followed said we were trying to add a personal touch to the original email and then acknowledge our mistake. While there were a few snippy replies to our original email with the error, we were flooded with replies to the second email…all positive!

I really believe in this day and age, when so many prominent people fail to simply admit their mistakes, these agents found it refreshing that someone finally admitted to a blunder. One agent told my boss he ought to run for public office.

Think about this for a moment; what if Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) had admitted to Katie Couric during that now famous interview that he indeed had taken steroids? I believe baseball fans
would have said, “Finally, someone who doesn’t have to get caught, go before Congress or have a scandal to force the truth.” Had he done that, I believe A-Rod would have been put on a pedestal and admired as an example of how to handle yourself once you’ve blown it and you know you have. An admission followed up by hard work in an effort to restore his name would not have left him as tainted as he is today.

I’m not saying you can always come up smelling like roses but you probably are far better off than waiting to get caught. On a personal note I’ve seen this to be the case on many occasions. I remember one occassion in particular where I could have treated a store Wal-Mart manager better than I did. While I never said or did anything I was ashamed of, I let my anger at the situation, which was out of his control, show and I’m sure it made for a bad evening for him.

I called him a couple of days later and apologized for how I acted. His first response was, “You didn’t act bad compared to other customers.” I told him that may be true but it still wasn’t the way I know I should have acted. His response was great, “You just made my day. No, you made my week. If you ever need anything you just ask for me by name.”

I could have blown that off but then his day, his week, would not have been as bright. It also made my day and taught me a valuable lesson. That lesson has been passed on to my daughter (she was with me when I got mad), to many people I’ve taught and now it’s been passed on to you. So, next time you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically!

Teaching You to Hear “Yes!”

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