What If I’m Wrong?
J.K. Rowling once wrote: “The best of us must sometimes eat our words”. As soon as we realize we’re wrong, we must ensure that the next words we utter aim to rebuild our identity, our reputation, and our relationships. For many of us, finding out that we were wrong can feel as if we have committed a crime. If not, then at least a threat to our self-identity. When that happens, we’re likely to act out in ways that undermine us even more, such as arguing, blaming others, withdrawing, or digging in our heels.
In her book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, author Kathryn Schulz writes, “Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong.” In other words, our commitment to believing that we know exactly what’s happening and why, and what to do about it, is reinforced by us trying very, very hard not to think about this possibility: “What if I’m making a mistake?” Or perhaps, even worse, “What if I already made one?”
So, before we’re viewed as wrong and arrogant, aloof, or unaccountable, we need to get ahead of the situation. We must first talk to ourselves and talk with whomever we may have impacted with our decision.
1. Take Complete Responsibility
We can’t learn unless we admit that we’ve done it. So, take a deep breath and admit and then take complete ownership of it. Inform those who need to know, apologize, and commit to yourself not to repeat that. Saying “sorry” takes courage, but it’s far better to come clean than to hide your wrongdoing or, worse, to blame others for it. Let’s say: “I was wrong”. (Don’t say “mistakes were made” or “it didn’t turn out the way I had anticipated” or any other version that deflects or minimizes our personal contribution). Face it, offer a brief explanation, but do not make lame excuses.
Acknowledge that that very wrongdoing had a negative impact on others, and be willing to really listen, without being defensive, to others’ recounting of that impact. Do not argue, simply apologize. In the long run, people will remember our courage and integrity long after they’ve forgotten the real issue. If, however, they hear of it from other sources, our reputation will be at stake and we may not get another opportunity to learn.
2. Analyse & Rectify
Next, we need to analyse honestly and objectively what has actually went wrong and why? Following questions will help:
- What was I trying to do?
- What, where and when it went wrong?
- Why did it go wrong?
Taking responsibility is critical, so is the taking action and rectifying the situation. In fact, action and rectification of the wrongdoing is a step ahead in the right direction. Tell others what we are doing right now to rectify the situation, and distinguish between the parts that can be fixed, and those that can’t. Include what you are doing to address the substantive impact (time, resources, processes, etc.) as well as the relational impact (feelings, reputation, trust, etc.) of having been wrong. Be open to feedback about what you’re doing. Conducting this “postmortem” should reveal what led to whatever happened, and highlight what needs to change in order to avoid a repeat.
3. Reframe the Wrongdoings
How we view our wrongdoings determine the way that we react to them, and what we do next. Chances are we shall view we have done wrong in a purely negative light for as long as any initial shock and discomfort about it persists. But, if we reframe what harm we have done to others as an opportunity to learn, we will motivate ourselves to become more knowledgeable and resilient.
When we’ve acknowledged our wrongdoings, think about what we could do to prevent it from happening again. Stop punishing yourself, pause for a moment to reflect, and start thinking about how one can control the damage.
4. Time to ACT
The danger at this stage is that work pressures force us back to our routine life and habitual behaviours within no time. This way our wishful thinking to rectify things could languish, unfulfilled, as mere good intentions. In other words, learning lessons is one thing, but putting them into practice is quite another!
Chances are, acting on what we’ve learned will require discipline and motivation to change our habits, or to change the way that our team works. Doing so will help you to avoid self-sabotage in the future, and will allow us to reap the rewards and benefits of implementing better work practices. Here, we need to identify the skills, knowledge, resources, or tools that will keep us from repeating what we’ve done earlier.
5. Review the Progress
We may have to try out several ways to put our learning into practice before we find one that successfully prevents us from repeating past behavioural problems. This could be introspection and by trusting our close friends and colleagues. Ask them nicely to share their constructive feedback.
Let’s not shy away. Remember, our friends or colleagues are helping us come out of a situation which no one else including ourselves. From there, monitor the efficacy of the chosen tactic by reviewing the number and nature of issues. Asking ourselves to hold us accountable can help us to stay committed to our new course of action.
Being wrong is messy. This becomes messier when this list becomes never-ending. Being wrong without self-reflection is irresponsible, even if you hate self-reflection. Research has shown that reflection boosts productivity. Yet very few people make time for it. Why? For one, they often don’t know where to start. You can become more reflective by practicing a few simple steps. Start by identifying a few important questions. Some possibilities: What are you avoiding? How are you helping your colleagues achieve their goals? How are you not helping or even hindering their progress?
Then select a reflection process that works for you. You can sit, stand, walk or jog, alone or with someone, writing, talking, or thinking. And then schedule time on your calendar to do it. Start small. If an hour of reflection seems like too much, try 10 minutes. Be still. Think. Consider multiple perspectives. Look at the opposite of what you initially believe. You don’t have to like or agree with all of your thoughts — just think and to examine your thinking.
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Muhammad Sajwani is the Founder and Managing Director of Evolve HR which aims at transforming, enriching and evolving Human Capital of Pakistan, Evolve HR thrives in challenging assumptions that hinder organisational aspirations, by creating innovative solutions that yield maximum impact, scalability & benefit to a wider base of stakeholders. As a Business Coach and Organisational Consultant, Sajwani knows how to combine business insights with people insights to transform organisations and put them on the path to growth.