Monday, February 28, 2011

Uncommon Words for the Workplace

"I was wrong..." It doesn't matter what comes after the start of that sentence, admitting you're wrong is still one of the hardest things to do in life. Not surprisingly, it also figures to be some of the most uncommon words in the workplace.

Recently, friends of mine faced significant criticism from co-workers for mistakes made on a critical project - mistakes that set the project back. Furthermore, not only had they made these errors, to their own disappointment, they also treated others disrespectfully along the way. They were, to some degree, reaping bitter fruit from seeds they had sown.

Never mind that they were working hard and doing their very best. Never mind that they did far more good than harm. Never mind that others had made mistakes as well. All that was in view at that moment in time were their mistakes and the resulting criticism.

How did my friends respond? They stood up in front of their co-workers and admitted their critical errors. They also apologized for the way they conducted themselves and I respect them all the more for it.

If it's unquestionably difficult to acknowledge a mistake in judgment, it would seem altogether unbearable to confess to character flaws like arrogance in a public setting. I've come to learn that "sorry" truly is the hardest word in business - "sorry for my decisions", "sorry for my impatience", "sorry that I let you down". Few say it even though many mistakes are made every day - by executives, middle managers and individual contributors. Particularly because most criticism is a blend of truth and error, it's so much easier to justify ourselves rather than working hard to extract the essence of truth in the complaint.

So what would compel you to stand up and let your mistakes be counted? Would pragmatism or fear motivate you? "If I don't concede my mistakes... my coworkers will make life miserable...or I might lose my job..." Both may appear to be plausible reasons but from my experience, neither fear nor pragmatism serve as compelling forces for true humility.

Neither will cause us to do the unthinkable - to embrace the God-given opportunity to admit faults and confess weaknesses. Yet, there may be a better way noted in Philippians 2:

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

Welcoming opportunities to confess our weaknesses comes through a renewed, humble mindset. A mindset similar to that of Christ. Instead of claiming his rights as equal to God, Jesus Christ "made himself nothing". He humbly sacrificed his life for the eternal good of others. This mindset is the right and responsibility of everyone who calls upon his name, who receives forgiveness of sins through Christ. Knowing his forgiveness means that we have faced our greatest criticism - our moral failure before God - and lived to tell the tale. It gives us hope and makes us courageous enough to say "I'm sorry" to those we fail presently.

When was the last time you apologized for your words or actions?


David Rupert said...

Recently I was wrong and I lied about it. It did not end well. The thing is, the truth would have been so much better. The consequences from the lie wouldn't have been nearly as bad as the consequences from the mistake.

You would think I would learn!

Halfmom said...

About a week ago - I had to go to the father of one of my Jr High students and ask forgiveness. I said something to him out of frustration - in front of his child. Yeh, it was bad. Wrong time, wrong place, wrong attitude, wrong witnesses, no pray before speaking - a whole gamut of, "this was sin - here, here, here, here. I was wrong; I sinned against you; will you please forgive me?"

So, David, I understand the sentiment, "you'd think I would learn." But, such is common to man and with the humility I think we keep getting a little more insight into the humility of Christ.

Great post, ESI.

Every Square Inch said...

David - thank you for being so honest and vulnerable about your mistakes. What comes to mind your display humility attracts the grace of God to help you in your weakness.

Halfmom - your story like David's is inspiring for its honesty. The fact is that we are flawed, sinful and our best works on our best days are still like filthy rags but God's grace is abundant.