It’s a hard moment for any of us:
Admitting when we’re wrong.
“I made a mistake, I messed up. I’m sorry.”
Just the words can bring up resistance inside many of us, especially if we’re apologizing to somebody we’re upset at or still not on good terms with.
Furthermore, how do you say sorry and admit you are mistaken without losing the respect of other people (and eroding some of your self-respect)?
1) Mend your mentality
You are not your mistake.
You being wrong about something does not mean you are a bad person.
This is especially true if you’re apologizing.
If your incorrect beliefs or actions truly showed you are a malicious person, you wouldn’t be saying sorry for them.
The fact that you’re fessing up shows that you care about taking responsibility and admitting when you screwed up.
2) Admit you’re wrong consciously
If you’re going to admit you’re wrong, do so consciously.
This shouldn’t be a scattershot attempt to say “I was wrong about everything.”
This is about the specific thing that you were wrong about or a specific thing that you want to own up to.
Take care to admit you’re wrong by being specific and conscious.
This will ensure respect remains, whereas if you just generalize it will come across as insincere or inaccurate.
3) Face the fear of failure
Being wrong can be difficult, and it can feel like this is a shot to your confidence or value.
But it’s really not.
Everybody is wrong at some point, and usually many times throughout their life.
None of us are here to always be right or always make the right decisions.
It can take 100 failures to make one big success.
That’s just the way life works. Don’t be ashamed of it.
This relates to the next point…
4) Let go of perfectionism
The perfect is the enemy of the good:
This is really true.
Perfectionism and the need to always be right is very stressful.
It can also make it hard to be around yourself too much as you’re constantly dealing with this inner critic who judges you.
Admitting to yourself or others that you were wrong hurts when you are trying to maintain this idea of reaching for perfection.
It’s important to let this ideal go and not get too hung up on it…
5) Laugh at your ego
Your ego may have trouble admitting you’re wrong, but it’s important to learn to laugh a little at this.
Your ego will always be hungry for validation and being “right” as much as possible.
It takes discipline and strength to take ownership over your ego and not be run by it.
Your ego doesn’t own you and it doesn’t need to decide everything you do.
You can admit you’re wrong and laugh at the insecurity of your ego.
You’re bigger than it.
6) Don’t cling to self-righteousness
When you’re admitting you’re wrong, just admit it.
Don’t cling to self-righteousness or compare.
“I was wrong about that decision to pressure you into taking that job. My advice was bad. But at least I was trying to help, I mean, I’m just doing it because I love you and…”
Nope. Not the right move.
When you’re admitting a mistake or apologizing for something that happened which you played a part in, do your best to keep it simple.
Speak clearly and admit your fault or at least your regret.
This isn’t even about whether you’re a good person, it’s just about a mistake you made, sometimes within a very specific and narrow context.
You may have been right and effective in nine out of ten things you did last year, but that’s not the point:
The point is you’re apologizing for the tenth thing which you were wrong about and caused harm or consequences.
If you’re just admitting you’re wrong about something you believed was true that isn’t true, stick to the same idea:
This doesn’t mean you’re stupid or wrong about everything, just this one thing.
At the same time…
7) Don’t bow and scrape
There’s a certain way of admitting you’re mistaken or wrong that’s hard to watch.
We’ve all seen it, and it’s disturbing:
The person apologizing or admitting error bows and scrapes as if prostrating before the dictator of North Korea.
This will lose you respect.
Even if you’re mistaken in a serious or dramatic way, an apology should not be over the top in this way.
As I mentioned at the beginning, your mistake is not you.
It’s a mistake you made, and you are owning up to it, which is good.
But you should never believe that it reduces your inherent value down to zero or that your future and well-being now depends on the edict of the one you’re saying sorry to.
8) Acknowledge the roots of your error
Whatever you were wrong about likely has some roots.
Why were you wrong?
Maybe you never learned about the experiences of a certain marginalized group in school or in your culture and thus said something which badly hurt a friend?
Maybe you have always had a chip on your shoulder about feeling unwanted sexually and that’s why you said something wrong to a female friend.
Maybe you’ve always felt unfairly treated by the world and thus made a business decision that was deceptive and dishonest.
Remember, these are not justifications or excuses, but they can be seen as roots.
By opening up a bit more about the roots of your bad actions or mistakes you can ensure that somebody sees you’re not just a “bad person.”
Instead, you demonstrate that you are a complex individual who has your share of demons still left to conquer and they got the better of you in this instance.
9) Vow to learn and grow
What good is admitting you’re wrong if you don’t do anything about it?
To keep respect, it’s necessary to admit to it when you’re wrong while also being open to correcting it.
If your wrong beliefs or actions have caused harm, vow to fix it and take steps to do so.
If your incorrect words or behavior has hurt people, do your best to really communicate with them and try to repair some of those burnt bridges that may have occurred.
Whenever possible try your best to actually begin learning and growing from your mistake.
It’s not just about what you did wrong or got wrong, it’s about what you’re going to do next.
Which brings up my final point here…
10) Fix your mistake
There’s nothing worse than an empty apology.
It’s more than possible to be truly sorry about what you were wrong on and say sorry sincerely and yet have zero drive to actually do anything about it.
In fact it’s not just possible, it’s very common.
But when people see that you mean what you say and are committed to actual action to make up for it, their respect cranks up immediately.
This is why it’s important to try to actually fix your mistake.
If you hurt someone at work with your error, do your best to undo the damage…
If you’ve misled or hurt somebody your intimate with or in a relationship with, communicate with them clearly and try to make up for it.
You can’t expect forgiveness, but they will at least respect your effort.
Being right about being wrong
It’s important to be right about being wrong.
What I mean here is that you shouldn’t over-apologize.
Saying sorry too often, or too profusely and intensely, is a way to quickly bleed respect from others (and from yourself).
It’s a balance…
If you know you made a serious mistake that’s affected other people then say sorry and do what you can to fix it.
Make sure you’re actually wrong and not just doubting yourself or being self-effacing.
The core of real respect
Real respect is founded on authenticity.
When you’re honest with yourself, you respect yourself.
When you’re honest with others, they respect you.
Admitting that you’ve made a mistake or are incorrect about something you’ve done or said can actually increase the amount of respect you’re getting.
By fessing up and recognizing your own missteps, you also come across as more secure and confident.
Those who admit when they’re wrong and own their mistakes are powerful and authentic individuals.
Are you one of them?