Your Biggest Mistake

  • Why do we hurry to hide a mistake?
  • What should we do instead?

Your Biggest Mistake is Covering Up Your Mistake

Why do we do this?

Lately, two major mistakes, in two organizations we work, with came to light. The mistakes were made and the leadership did as much as they could to mitigate the fallout. What they didn’t realize was that “pretending” there wasn’t a mistake and rationalizing actions that were damaging were their bigger mistakes. 

Here’s why they made these mistakes:

  1. Fear and Defensiveness – The first reaction of the teams in each scenario was fear. In each scenario the two organizations had behaved in a way that could open them up to a legal battle so their initial reaction was to withdraw from the situation. They went back to their leadership and started to map out a strategy to “fix” their mistakes.
  2. Rationalizing – The groups began to look through all of their policies and any past correspondences to find a way to rationalize how they were victimized and not the other way around. The team was motivated to do this because the accusations did not align with how they identified themselves. They believed they were fair-minded people who were doing their best.
  3. Reputation – If the team acknowledges that any damage has been done, they open themselves to admitting guilt. This could ruin the reputation of the organizations and individual leaders. Often times, a response comes across as overly defensive and makes people look guilty, so withdrawal is the best option.

What’s the Solution?

The best solution is a restorative conversation when the initial damage is spotted. In both of the organizations where mistakes were continuing to occur, the easiest solution would have been a conversation with stakeholders from the start. You can involve a third party or a mediator if necessary, but avoiding problems will not make them go away.

Is it too late for these organizations? NO

As long as things have not gotten so far as actual litigation, coming together, in person, will begin to repair damage. It is much better when you catch damage before people have had time to rattle off emails they’ll regret, or gossip about it all over the office. The key here is for everyone to get a chance to practice the conversation in a pre-conference, then come together in the spirit of repair and restoration. Human beings are problems solvers, we want to come to agreements where everyone can thrive. 

Coming into a conversation to prove yourself right or to dominate the conversation will backfire. Always be ready to solve the problem. Cut out dehumanizing means of communicating such as text, email, Teams, Slack, whatever, and make the appointment for the in-person repair. It will save hundreds of hours of strife.