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(13) Pearls of Life

Admit Mistakes & Rebuild Trust

PL13

Admit Your Mistakes

This isn’t the same thing as accepting criticism of course, but it’s closely related. We all know that everyone makes mistakes, and if you won’t admit to them you’re not fooling anyone that you’ve never made any. You may, however, come across as arrogant or pompous or simply unable to recognize when you’re wrong.

I’m not advocating some kind of confessional where you go around admitting to everything you can think of, just to appear humble. You don’t want to undermine people’s confidence in you entirely. But where it’s clear something has gone wrong, and it’s down to you, then say so. People will respect you more for it.

The same goes for mistakes in the past. If you can tell a story against yourself, admitting you got something wrong, it makes you look human and modest and honest and genuine and self-effacing. All of which are good things.

There is one exception to this approach, mind you. I had a friend years ago who was always late for everything, to the point where it was hugely irritating. I remember her saying to me, “I’m dreadful at timekeeping, I know, but at least I can admit it.” I thought, “You mean you know it, you realize the frustration it causes, and you still do it? If you were unaware of the hassle I might conceivably forgive you, but if you know what you’re doing it’s inexcusable.” When you recognize your mistakes, that doesn’t absolve you of any responsibility for correcting them. On the contrary, it makes it imperative.

 Get to Know People

 So you want something-badly. That job, or a bigger house, or a decent holiday, or a calmer outlook on life, or a crucial deal at work, or a decent care package for your elderly father. Whatever it is you need, you’re going to struggle to get it without any support. Whether it’s at work or at home, from officials or neighbors or your kids’ school, you’ll find it a whole lot easier with people on your side.

This is always going to be true, before you even know what it is you might want next year or in five years” time. The more of a network you have, the better chance of finding someone to give you the legup you need. It’s far harder to get what you want if you’re a recluse, you know. So go on, get out there, meet people. Get to know your colleagues-go for the occasional drink after work even if it’s not really your thing. Turn up to a residents’ meeting or a school parents’ party or an event at the health club. Chat to people, find out more about them, even offer them help if you find someone who could use your support. One day you’ll find you need someone who understands cars, or knows a local state representative, or has dealt with a particular customer before, or can tell you how to apply for something, or will nominate you for a committee, or can put you in touch with a good lawyer, or will put a word in with the finance director. And the more people you’re on good terms with, the more likely it is you’ll know just the person you need.

 Learn to Listen Properly

 You’d have thought listening was a basic skill, but how often do you have a conversation

with someone where it becomes apparent that you’d both come away from your last discussion on the subject thinking you’d agreed to different things?

“But you said you were going to pick up the milk on the way home!” “No, I said I wouldn’t have time, and you said you’d do it….” Well, all I can say is that at least one of you wasn’t listening properly, and quite possibly both.

There are lots of things that can keep you from listening properly. Recognize any of these?

  • You’re too busy thinking of what you’re going to say as soon as you can get a word in.
  • You go off on a different train of thought sparked by something that’s been said.
  • You know what they’re going to say anyway.
  • You’re bored.
  • You don’t really understand what they’re saying.
  • You’re distracted by noise or activity.
  • You’re in a hurry.

If you want to have productive conversations with people, you need to recognize when one of these things is happening and stop yourself getting distracted. If necessary you need to say, “Sorry, I missed that—can you say it again?” Or, “I didn’t understand that, can you explain it without the jargon?” Or “I can’t really concentrate because I’m running late for a meeting. Can we catch up on this properly later?”

Nobody minds this kind of response, because it shows you want to listen properly. If anything it’s flattering-people like to be heard. So train yourself to listen properly and stop pretending

 Know What You’ve Agreed To

 Not all conversations lead to a decision, but often they do. And it’s surprising how often everyone has a different recollection of what’s been decided. That’s why we have minutes for meetings. You might like to try minuting your morning chat with your partner about who’s buying the milk, but personally I’d be somewhat irked if you were my partner and you tried to do that at 7:30 a.m. just as I was rushing out the door.

On the other hand, you do need to know who’s buying the milk. So you need to get into the habit of at least summarizing the conclusion before you go your separate ways. “Right. So I’ll buy the milk and I’ll see you back here at about 6:30 then.” This is even more important when you’re working toward something you really want. It’s crucial you’re clear about whether you’re calling someone back or waiting for their call. Did your boss ask for your report by this Friday or next Friday? You’ll only know if you summarize what’s been said, and listen to yourself summarizing it. (I know that sounds foolish, but it is possible to summarize on autopilot and not actually know what you’ve said-I’ve done it myself.) If the discussion is at all important, and especially if it’s official or work-based in any way, it’s also sensible to email your understanding of the decision to the other person—so they can reply if they don’t think they heard what you thought they thought they heard. (See how easy it is to get confused?) Drop your boss a quick email: “Thanks for the chat this morning, and I just wanted to confirm that I’ll get my report in by next Friday at the latest.”

 

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