Why is it so hard to admit when we’re wrong?
We easily put energy into convincing others we’re right. We’ll justify our actions or show how others are to blame. The truth is, any time we have a conflict, we’ve done something wrong. Admitting our mistakes always leaves us better off.
One summer, I was working at student services, when a particularly challenging person came in. I had dealt with this person before and I didn’t want to deal with them again. I was unhelpful and the student left frustrated. The next day, the Vice President called me in to discuss the incident. I knew that I was wrong. I admitted that I didn’t handle the situation well and that I should’ve done better.
I’ll never forget the surprised look on her face. She later told my supervisor that she was impressed by my maturity. That moment taught me a valuable lesson – admitting I was wrong increased, rather than decreased the respect that she had for me.
The paradox is that the one thing we don’t want to do (admit our mistakes), is exactly the thing that benefits us most. It’s the fear of being wrong that triggers our reaction to resist, deny or justify our actions. But, this reaction is the opposite of what benefits us. Our resistance to admit our mistakes sucks up our energy and keeps us from more productive and meaningful activity. Moreover, by denying our weaknesses, we rob ourselves of the chance to improve and create forgiveness.
Being wrong doesn’t mean we’re flawed, it’s a normal part of being human. Often the first person we need to apologize to is ourselves. Very often we are most disappointed that we didn’t handle a situation better or that we weren’t the kind of person who we wanted to be.
The funny thing is that owning up to our mistakes actually makes up better people. With conscious practice, it becomes a strong incentive to avoid doing things we need to apologize for later.
The good news is that the more we do it, the easier it becomes. But, it takes practice to stop reacting the fear of being wrong. So, here are some common signs that we should make an amends:
1. We are uncomfortable and feel the need to explain the actions that we took.
2. We’re mad and are dwelling on it.
3. We hurt someone’s feelings (deliberately or unintentionally) through our actions.
Being wrong isn’t fun, but most of our errors aren’t tragic. And if the thing that you need to own up to is far too painful to imagine, then start with smaller stuff before you tackle bigger things.
As the Vice President taught me many years ago, owning your mistakes doesn’t make you look weak. It gives you peace within yourself and shows the strength of your character. Just think, your example might just give someone else the courage to do the same.