instant credibility

Here is a way to gain instant credibility with your boss: Tell her about a mistake that reflects poorly on you.

People’s instinct is so often to hide or soften this kind of thing, but in fact the more blunt you are, the better you will come across. Just say it: “I really screwed something up.” “I was completely wrong about this.” Explain what you did, why you were wrong, and what you propose doing about it now. This also works in retrospect. Tell your boss, “Do you remember how last month I argued for moving forward with that project when Bob insisted it was a bad idea? I was wrong. Here’s what I’ve realized since then.”

Not only is this incredibly refreshing, but it’s powerful because it instills in your boss the confidence that you will give her bad news directly — she doesn’t need to worry that she’ll only get negative information if she digs for it. It also tells her that you have integrity and that your priority is to be honest and objective, not to protect yourself. And if you’re ever in a he-said/she-said situation with someone, the person more likely to be believed is the person who has a reputation for being scrupulously open even when doing so won’t reflect well on them.

Disclaimer: If you are confessing a mistake every week, this will not work well for you. This only works when you’re competent overall but making the occasional normal human error. (Although, frankly, if you’re incompetent, you’re probably better off being up front about mistakes and asking for help than hiding them. But I do not have incompetent readers.)

{ 5 comments… read them below }

  1. Lisa*

    Great post. I may just print this off and hand out to each memeber of my staff as a great reminder!

  2. Dan McCarthy*

    Great advice. If I�ve screwed up, I want my manager to hear about it from me first. Same goes for my employees � please don�t let me hear about it from a client or my manager. Give me advance warning so I�m not surprised and can recover.

  3. Jackie Cameron*

    Oh I so agree AAM – this keeps the control of what happens in your hands too. Sometimes you can sort things yourself and on other occasions a much better result can come from collaboration or calling in some expertise. By being open you can take responsibility for finding the best solution too.

  4. Liz Williams*

    I love this, AAM. I’ll go you one better: Confess to a mistake in progress. I did this once and got a political education I’ve never forgotten.

    The quick outline: I was the only one in a recurring meeting challenging the external consultants who were saying the most outrageous things. Everyone else – normally quite outspoken – was just sitting there, my boss included. One day I followed her into her office and said “OK, what am I missing here?” She said, “Close the door,” then laid it out for me. I never missed it again.

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