Talk About Your Own Mistakes First

June 21, 2011

After years of being in business we tend to gravitate to our routines and, presumably, reduce the number of mistakes we make. But it wasn’t always like that, was it? Don’t all seasoned businesspersons make their fair share of mistakes when first starting out?

Dale Carnegie was very mindful of this fact, and liked to tell the story of his niece, Josephine Carnegie, who left her home in Kansas City and come to New York to act as Carnegie’s secretary. She was nineteen, had graduated from high school three years prior, and her business experience amounted to little more than nothing at all.

In the beginning, Josephine was—as Dale Carnegie delicately put it—“susceptible to improvement.” He found he needed to correct her on virtually every task she performed. Then one day when he started to criticize her, he said to himself, “Just a minute Dale Carnegie; just a minute. You are twice as old as Josephine. You have had ten thousand times as much business experience. How can you possibly expect her to have your viewpoint, your judgment, your initiative?” Carnegie went on to think about what he was doing at age nineteen, and the asinine mistakes and foolish blunders he had made.

After thinking the matter over, honestly and impartially, he concluded that Josephine’s batting average was better than his had been at that age, although he didn’t see that admission as necessarily paying Josephine much of a compliment.

From that point forward when he wanted to call Josephine’s attention to a mistake, he used to begin by saying, “You have made a mistake, Josephine, but the Lord knows, it’s no worse than many I have made. You were not born with judgment. That comes only with experience, and you are better than I was at your age. I have been guilty of so many stupid, silly things myself that I have very little inclination to criticize you or anyone. But don’t you think it would have been wiser if you had done (so and so)?”

Admitting your own faults before criticizing someone else accomplishes two important things: It shows the person that you realize we’re all human and that we all make our fair share of mistakes; and it makes it a lot easier for the person you’re speaking with to hear a recital of their faults. Give it some thought the next time you have to call attention to one of your reports’ blunders.

This post is brought to you by the good folks at Dale Carnegie Training of Mid & Northern Michigan. We would love to connect with you on Facebook.

Photo credit: Ambro

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