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October 2006 - Listen Effectively

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John Kline, PhD, inspirational and motivational keynote and after-dinner speaker and corporate trainer.

October 2006

Help Others Learn From Their Mistakes

Previous columns presented four steps to motivating others: inspire confidence, demonstrate enthusiasm, ask “what’s in it for others?” and delegate responsibly. The fifth step is to help people learn from their mistakes.

We all make mistakes; successful people learn from them. None of us learned to walk, ride a bicycle or write our name the first time we tried. And none of us came into this world “potty trained.” Our parents helped us learn from our mistakes.

A CEO of a large company was asked if he was going to fire an executive whose recent mistake cost the company six hundred thousand dollars. The CEO shook his head and explained, "I just spent six hundred thousand dollars training him. Why would I want anyone else to hire his experience?" We can assume the CEO spent time helping the executive learn from the mistake.

Here are some things to do to help subordinates or others around us learn from their mistakes.

  • Don’t let a mistake go unnoticed. Not mentioning it increases the chances it will happen again. Do use the mistake as a chance for learning.
  • Do let others know it’s alright to make mistakes and that you will not be angry or punish them; otherwise, people will be reluctant to try new things for fear of failing.
  • When others make a mistake, help them see what they could have done differently or how they can do things differently next time.
  • Affirm their efforts by saying something such as, “I know you gave it your best shot and I doubt very many people—perhaps none—could have done the job better; but I believe we can learn some things from this.” (Notice: say “we” rather than “you.”)
  • Practice the “Golden Rule.” Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Handle the mistakes of others right, and everybody wins—you, the other person, and the organization.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

October 2006 - Listen Effectively
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