August 1, 2012

Distinguish Yourself: Admit Your Mistakes

By: Roger Custer

The bad news is that you are going to make mistakes. The good news is that you can distinguish yourself by admitting your mistakes and learning from them. However, that’s not the most common response.

We are typically hard-headed and uninterested in admitting error. I guess we want to boost our ego and pretend that mistakes don’t happen. However, the best way to deal with any mistake is to admit it and move on. As Dale Carnegie writes in How to Win Friends and Influence People, it “raises one above the herd” when you admit a mistake. More often than not, the person who was wronged will forgive you and give you credit for admitting the mistake.

“Any fool can try to defend his or her mistakes – and most fools do – but it raises one above the herd and gives one a feeling of nobility and exultation to admit one’s mistakes.” –Dale Carnegie

You can wait a little while to apologize and admit a mistake. Sometimes it is difficult to respond right away or approach the person you wronged. A day or two is a reasonable time frame for a response. Think through what you learned from the mistake and also tell the person what you plan to do in order to avoid that error again.

When I was right out of college in my first job, I was not careful with emails. I sent an offensive email to a customer that I meant to send to my colleague – it was sarcastically criticizing the customer. You should never write derogatory statements in an email (this will be the subject of another column), but once it is sent, there is nothing to do but apologize and learn from the mistake. The damage was done, but the recipient appreciated an honest apology and the knowledge that I learned from the mistake.

Alexander Pope wrote “to err is human, to forgive, divine.” Distinguish yourself by admitting your mistakes and learning from them.

Roger Custer is Executive Director of America’s Future Foundation. Read his other professional development columns here.