When was the last time you heard (or uttered) this phrase in a moment of consequence?

Reflecting, I’m fairly certain I’ve said “I’m sorry.” But that is not the same thing.

Sadly, I don’t remember backing away from a position, strategy or action, and thoughtfully acknowledging having been flat wrong…though there have been plenty of times when it would have been the most appropriate response. 

This blind spot comes with serious consequences.

The Dissonance That Destroys 

To the degree being wrong is equated with having failed, the brain’s bias for survival kicks in. Acknowledging a flawed decision or course of action is tantamount to waiving a white flag and surrendering precious territory in a battle where turf may be the grand prize. It is a last resort. 

As a result, rethinking — a potent byproduct of experience — gives way to doubling down, cranking up the volume and digging in with greater conviction.

Meanwhile, it may be becoming increasingly clear to others — colleagues, partners and important relationships — that neither the lessons of experience or the feedback of a tribe are of import when it comes to changing course.

This inability to admit what is likely obvious to many causes a cognitive dissonance that eats away at influence, destroys trust and fractures relationships.

The Seed Of Authenticity 

Plenty has been written about the value that comes when leaders are willing to admit mistakes. Here are a couple of short pieces from HBR and Deloitte written for leaders.

But in case we need to state it — this doesn’t apply only to those holding “positions” of leadership.

Wherever conversations or communication at any level are important, a willingness to say “I was wrong” implies ultimate authenticity. 

Simply saying it, of course, isn’t the point. It will have no more effect than other actions contrived to suggest openness.

An arsenal already exists containing catch phrases and short hand expressions so over used that they are either meaningless, or fall on deaf ears. 

But in most circumstances sincerity is palpable. Saying “I was wrong” and meaning it is so rare that it shocks the ear, changes relationships, builds bridges, instigate new conversations, and seeds an authentic culture. 

It requires a bit of courage, to be sure. In addition, it calls for a pronounced pivot — away from the idea that being wrong is failure, to seeing it as an opportunity to learn.

Are We Brave Enough?

If, like me, you are painfully aware of occasions when it would have been the appropriate response, be alert to an opportunity this week to test this hypothesis — simply admitting “I was wrong” will instantly change the dynamics of the moment. Maybe even the relationship. 

And for the countless times that this should have been my response — I acknowledge that I was wrong. 

(Let me know if you test the hypothesis…and how it goes.)