mistakes (1)

Mistakes were Made (but not by me)

This is the title of an excellent book by Carol Travis and Elliot Aronson which I highly recommend you read. But until you get the time to do that, here are some ways to get the most value out of your mistakes and those of the people you work and live with.

DO understand that recovering a memory is not at all like retrieving a file or replaying a tape. It is more like watching a few unconnected frames of a film and then figuring out what the rest of the scene must have been like.

DO recognize that we have to struggle with the automatic belief that I’m right, so you’re wrong; I’m reasonable, you’re not, I/we are right, reasonable, sensible, logical, tolerant, well informed, objective, and you/they are not.

DO admit to yourself that just as you have a perfectly good, sensible reason for thinking and behaving the way you do, every other person you deal with has just as good, but probably different way of thinking and doing what they are doing. It makes perfect sense to them.

DO comprehend that we have an in-built, self-justification system. Our need to justify our own beliefs and actions is so strong that we can knowingly lie to ourselves, but if we repeat the lie often enough, we will finish up believing our own lies.

DO take the time to think about the most harmful consequences of self-justification: how it exacerbates prejudice and corruption, distorts memory, turns professional confidence into arrogance, creates and perpetuates injustice, warps love, and generates feuds and rifts.

DON’T be fearful of making mistakes or at least of other people finding out that we made mistakes.  We all agree that we have learned most from our mistakes. Our experience also shows us that if we want to learn something, the fastest and most thorough way is to obtain some basic guidelines, and then start doing it. Treat mistakes as a learning opportunity, analyze to discover what needs to change, make the change and keep going.

DON’T just hurry to fix mistakes. Take the time to de-brief together about what happened: how did we each contribute to what happened and what can we do differently to reduce the chances of that happening again?

DON’T try to find someone to blame for a mistake. That leads to resistance and resentment and discourages better solutions. Take an appreciative inquiry approach: what worked well and how can we make it work better?

DO value the many different points of view that you have around the table. Understand that because of our culture, we are all uncomfortable having our weaknesses or mistakes pointed out, but we need to do that with and for each other. As we do it, we will become less uncomfortable giving and receiving critical feedback and we will become much stronger as a team.

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