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Admit You Are Wrong, or Make Your Situation and Eventual Embarrassment Worse

Mar 17, 2008
If you don't let people see your slips, you'll slip up.
Psychologists who do surveys concerning personal fears tell us that the most common fears are of public speaking and public embarrassment.

Most people will go to great lengths to avoid either circumstance. This is an important point to consider because it helps to explain why so many people take enormous risks for their company and themselves to avoid an alternative that is, in fact, far less threatening in reality than the path they are taking.

To fully understand this psychology, however, we must also consider the research that shows how most people perceive risk aversion. This work is well documented in the decision-making literature.

What this research shows is that people will first seek to avoid a loss before attempting to seek an even larger gain. This means that no matter how good the ultimate consequences may be of being candid about the impact of the irresistible force, people will act to avoid the negative near-term consequences of public embarrassment.

Both the Nixon cover-up of the Watergate burglary and the Clinton cover-up of the relationship with Monica Lewinsky appeared to be influenced by this psychology. In the case of Nixon, an early admission of error and an apology would probably have avoided the Watergate hearings and his subsequent resignation. Nixon felt pressed to resign from office because of the public reaction to the cover-up, not because of the burglary itself.

Similarly, subsequent events suggest that the American public would have been very accepting of an early acknowledgment of the Lewinsky relationship and sincere apology by Clinton. The impeachment hearings could have undoubtedly been avoided, since the special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, based his referral to the House of Representatives on the alleged cover-up.

Now, anyone can understand why these two men didn't want to confess their errors and be subject to public embarrassment. In retrospect, however, it seems clear that sharing their faults early would have been the better course for them and the country.

Hicks Waldron, former CEO of Avon Products and Heublein, was asked once what he valued most about one of his executives. Waldron's answer was revealing, "The man always calls me to tell me about his problems as soon as they arise or he finds out about them. That way, I have no surprises, and I can work with him to resolve the problems before they get worse." Many CEOs share this philosophy.

Yet many people in companies feel that their job is to be perfect, which means not making errors. That is an unreasonable self-expectation.

Where does this feeling come from? In addition to fear of public embarrassment, most people also overestimate their talents. This universally high self-esteem is helpful for encouraging people to try things, but can get in the way of their being effective.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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