Call me crazy, but I find transparency extremely sexy, especially when someone admits their mistakes.
Dang, look at those killer poetry skills.
These days, when people & corporations (one and the same in this land) get caught red-handed, their names show up under the “breaking news” signage. We all know that’s the culmination of multiple bad decisions made, yet they still choose the wave of a scandal pummeling them over the quiet admittance of fault. They can easily avoid the cacophonous eruption of everyone’s angry voice, yet they choose to hide behind their mistakes.
Think about some of the scandals that recently plagued the news. You have the college admission corruption case. Elizabeth Holmes‘ fraudulent scheme. An infinite laundry list of companies that were hacked and waited YEARS to come clean. These all fall under a similar, quite disappointing, pattern. The “let’s see how long I can keep this charade going” pattern, marred in egocentrism that they are too good to get caught. In terms of perception, there’s a certain air of professionalism associated with transparency. The alternative screams ‘lack of character’ since we all know that the information will make itself known.
“Do they really think they can hide these things from the public? Who ARE these people?” – says everyone every time.
I don’t call it good PR, I call it good manners. You fucked up, own your mistakes. Period.
The same goes for the smallest mistakes that we ‘average’ people deal with. Sure, we might not lose our way due to an oversized ambitious brain that prefers to crash and burn instead of choosing the moral high ground, but the actions we do take have proportionate consequences in our lives.
We won’t fall off a “billionaire pedestal”, but our reputation and career will be at stake if we continue to conceal mistakes that can potentially hurt us.
I recently made a conscious shift, where I admit an oversight, or a mistake on my part, the moment I recognize it. And I do it with confidence because I truly enjoy admitting my mistakes. And no, that doesn’t mean that I’m comfortable making them. Or that I have a laissez-faire attitude. It just means I’d rather be a step ahead of everyone else if I make a mistake, regardless of the situation. I like to think that this approach will spare me agony in the future and help me keep my name away from the “breaking news”.
Here are some examples of mistakes I owned up to.
I was at a stop light and quickly turned around to look at my son in his car seat. I didn’t realize I lifted my foot off the break. My car rolled straight into the one in front of me… boom! The woman got out absolutely enraged, ready to rip my throat out. The moment I saw her, I lifted both my hands up in apology. I got out of the car, hand on my heart, and apologized profusely for my mistake. She softened up immediately, told me it was ok, got back into her car, and drove away. My reaction had everything to do with the positive result of it.
I was responsible for gathering requirements for a project I was on. An issue came up where our team wasn’t sure how to proceed with a task. Eventually, we decided on a solution. A few months later, the stakeholders found out about our decision. They wanted to know why no one communicated it with them. My manager added me to the e-mail chain and outright asked me why they weren’t made aware of our decision. I immediately replied, to the visibility of the entire e-mail chain, with the three main reasons why I didn’t communicate the decision to them. I ended my email with the following sentence: “It’s an oversight I should have handled better”. My manager replied with a simple sentence: “No worries”.
In my entry-level job, I was in charge of making accruals on a monthly basis. By accident, I added an extra 0 at the end of an accrual, and only realized my mistake when I went to reconcile all the amounts. I knew my manager would see it, so I let her know immediately of the mishap and told her that it wouldn’t happen again. I opened up and let her know that my performance had slipped because of some personal issues. Impressed with my honesty, she acknowledged that my performance had indeed slipped. She gave me a tip. She told me to scream my heart out on the way to work, as a way to vent. So that the moment I walk into the office, my head is in the work.
In each one of these scenarios (and all other ones I made a mistake in), I immediately disarmed the other party. I took away their need to accuse me, to teach me a lesson, or to point out my mistake, because I beat them to it. They couldn’t reproach me because I laid it all out for them.
That’s the position you want to be in – AT ALL TIMES.
Sure, my mistakes (and hopefully yours) aren’t scandalous by nature. But I’m pretty sure no person or company ever started off by saying “how can I make sure all this data gets breached?” or “how do I make sure this doesn’t leak out?“. It all went down due to a series of small discarded mistakes that built up along the way, without anyone owning up. That can result in a huge avalanche that can engulf someone entirely and taint their good name. I’m using a generic example to illustrate how easy it is to get caught up in hiding behind your mistakes.
Hiding from your mistakes only makes them more visible, and it gives someone else the opportunity to confront you with them. You don’t want to be on the defensive… you don’t want to be “put in your place”.
No one likes criticism or to be told that they did something wrong. If you KNOW something isn’t right or you made a mistake, bring it to light. It’s much easier for you to tell someone you made a mistake than to have someone else point the finger at you. Make that mental shift the next time you run into such a situation.
And I shouldn’t even say this, but I will… DO NOT TRY TO COVER IT UP. No matter how small the mistake is.
There are three reasons for this:
1) One way or another, it WILL come out, when you least expect it.
Because life is unfair (fair?) like that. Sure, you might get away with a few mistakes here and there, but the likelihood of that is much less than not. There are plenty of examples out there of people who thought they got away with it, yet ended up falling from grace due to their overconfidence. Don’t let that be you. You’re better.
2) When it does come out, someone will ask you about it.
Have fun coming up with a lie on the spot. It’s harder than you think. Especially if quite some time has elapsed from the moment you made the mistake to the moment it sees light. This isn’t a game you want to play, because if it comes out that you knew about it and didn’t divulge it, then it’s double the trouble. The size of the avalanche is quite unpredictable at this point.
3) It will look really bad that you didn’t report it (or fix it).
Sometimes we make mistakes and can rectify them immediately. I’m sure you’ve experienced this too. It’s definitely easier to be open about those mistakes because you provided a solution and learned a lesson. But if you bury a mistake without fixing it, then it looks like you have no integrity. And also that you have no accountability. Is that how you want people to see you?
It’s really a no-brainer. It’s a win-win every time you’re honest and transparent, and a lose-lose everything you slip it under the rug.
From Dale Carnegie’s book How to influence and win friends:
When we are right, let’s try to win people gently and tactfully to our way of thinking, and when we are wrong – and that will be surprisingly often, if we are honest with ourselves – let’s admit our mistakes quickly and with enthusiasm. Not only will that technique produce astonishing results; but, believe it or not, it is a lot more fun, under the circumstances, than trying to defend oneself.