Oops. Did I do that?
I hate being wrong and if I’m wrong, I want you to know the reason, like I didn’t do anything maliciously and I’m not stupid. Mistakes happen. I flew from San Francisco to Daytona Beach and paid an additional $89 for premium seating extra legroom, bulkhead. The last time I flew this airline, I was in first class on a 16 hour flight to Egypt.
Upon boarding there was a pillow, a blanket and water bottle. Hmmm, I thought, they are making this premium seating a lot like first class. The flight attendant even asked me if I wanted something to drink. Wow this is really like first class. I settled in for my 5 hours flight and was engrossed in my magazine when some angry looking guy said you’re in my seat. I asked 10A – and he repeated more angrily – you’re in my seat. I asked again are you in 10A? The guy beside said, oh this is row 1. Yup I was in row one. My mind made the situation fit my perspective. Rather than even think I was in the wrong row, consider the possibility that I was in first class that I was in first class and most of all, to even think the airline which charged extra for exit row seating would have extra amenities in coach. This guy was really angry and I realized it was not the time to explain, my exhaustion, the fact when I entered the plane, I thought first class was in the forward cabin to the left, that I knew I had a bulk head seat, that I fly first class and whatever. I was wrong. I wasn’t some amateur traveler with no travel etiquette, but my mind started to find all sorts of reasons to spread the blame. Obviously, I’m wrong. Time to apologize and move. Quickly!!!
People are often not aware they are wrong. Being wrong simply means a fact or two was missed; 1A versus 10A, the light was red, the tall chai tea latte with the name Sheila on it does not belong to you sir. Granted there are an estimated 1% – 4% of the population that are sociapaths, but I’m not going anywhere near that. What happens in the “wrong scenario?”
People do not plan to cause havoc, chaos and mayhem over morning coffee. When someone is wrong, a fact or two is missed. The possibility of being wrong is like any other threat from a predator, fight or flight kicks in. There is the urge to either fight and defend the position or become overwhelmed, silent, and flee the situation. There are two sides to this scenario, the person who is wrong and the person calling it out.
For the person calling out an error, remember, as soon as you point out an error, you will send the person into a fight or flight response. You need to have the “missing facts” ready. Google makes this easy when someone incorrectly identifies and actor in a movie, I’ve used shazam more than once to shut down a debate about a song or an artist. These are the few times when the facts are definitive. Be prepared, when calling out an error, the person’s tendency is not to believe you. Many times, the facts can’t be googled and a conversation can’t be replayed. All that is left is “interpretation.“ Remember this because no matter how preposterous something sounds to you, the other person believes it to be true. You have to evaluate whether it needs to be addressed. There is a choice, you may or may not debate the facts, you think about the impact. For something like a rumor, you may choose not to respond. At other times, when it involves something someone thinks you said or did, as unbelievable as a statement may be, you need to address it. There are times to not engage and other times not to.
When you do engage, remember, no one wants to believe they are wrong and when they realize they are, they are surprised. Give it a moment and let it sink in. One of my friends was absolutely horrified she’d missed the deadline for a grant submission. The grant money funded a staff member and without the money, someone would lose a job. As background, she is a volunteer for this organization and her line of work does not involve what she calls, “all that corporate speak you people do in business that the rest of us don’t understand.” What I admire about her actions was she owned the error and quickly moved passed the surprise state into action.
When told she had missed a deadline. She followed with an earnest request for a chance to make it right. The chair person responded with a no. However, my friend knew her strengths. Verbally, she has the gift. I’ve seen her talk her way into restricted areas, sold out events and situations that normally involve a moving violation. Using this strength and the relationships she had built, with one phone call, she was able to submit the grant after the deadline. A year later, in a conversation with the board chair, my friend said, “see, this is why I wouldn’t get hired, I don’t know all this corporate speak.” The board chair responded,
I’d hire you in a minute. The situation with the grant last year, these are the three things you did. You immediately acknowledged and owned the error. You asked for the opportunity to make it right. You used your expertise and strengths to the best of your ability to rectify the situation.
Her actions showed trust and accountability. Mistakes will be made, it’s proven trust and accountability that make a person valuable in the workplace. Think of your own mortification when you’ve made an error and use that compassion when dealing with other who have made an error. People will make mistakes. When faced with an error, be gracious and assume the person did not purposely make a mistake. If you made the mistake, get over the horror, you are not infallible. Get pass the fact you made an error quickly. Acknowledge what’s wrong, determine what is within your ability to correct and act, As in my case on the plane; gather your things, push your ego aside and move quickly.