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Can you admit when you’re wrong?

Saying "I was wrong" in front of the large group isn't easy... but it can be very necessary. But how can we more readily identify if we might be wrong?


My daughter’s final spring soccer game took place last Sunday. As the game was winding down and the score was tied 3-3, one of her teammates took a blistering shot and found the back of the net.

My daughter’s team went up 4-3. As the referee ran back to mid-field to set up for the kick-off, my daughter caught his attention and said: “Sir, the ball hit my arm before it went into the goal.”

The referee waved off the goal and the score reverted to 3-3.

That was a gutsy sign of maturity and sportsmanship. Do we have the same guts when we do something wrong in the training room?  

Personally, I’d like to say: of course! I can admit when I’m wrong. The problem is that when I’m in front of people, there is definitely an element of ego that feels the need to be infallible. I don’t like to admit when I’m wrong, especially not in front of a group. How about you?

So how can we more readily be open to the possibility of being wrong?

I was doing some research for a new training module recently when I came across an article written in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Listening to People“. It was written in 1957.

In it, the author points to a concept called “hunt for negative evidence.” Basically, we don’t spend much time or effort searching for evidence that we might actually be wrong. The author of this article suggests we spend a little more time and energy being open to and seeking out ideas that may prove us wrong.

Several years ago I was facilitating a session on racial and ethnic identity development. We had been having a good discussion. Perhaps the discussion was too good, because I realized we had fallen 30 minutes behind schedule and we needed to move on.

I offered a transition statement to the next topic and I began to launch into the next topic.

One participant raised her hand and said: “Brian, I understand you have a job to do and you need to move us forward. But I feel that if we don’t spend more time on that previous point, we won’t be able to effectively discuss the next topic.”

I had facilitated this session many times before. People always feel they need more time on certain topics. Every other group had been able to push forward. I told the participant that I appreciated her point, but I asked her to “trust the process” and allow us to march forward in the session. Besides, if I gave in to this one participant about spending more time here, I’d have to give in to more requests down the road if someone wanted to spend more time in another area. It was a slippery slope that I’d just prefer not to explore.

I was not open to “negative evidence”, any evidence that perhaps sticking around for some additional discussion on the current topic would be beneficial. I was right. Period.

Three minutes later I looked around and realized, there’s no way this group could move forward. Too many people indeed were still stuck on the previous topic.

I stopped the conversation.

“I’m sorry everyone,” I said, “a few minutes ago someone suggested we spend some additional time on our previous topic. I told her that we needed to move forward. I’m looking around the room now and realized that wasn’t the right thing to do. Let’s take a step back and return to our previous topic.”

I was anxious. Not only was I admitting I was wrong in front of the large group, I was also wreaking havoc on the timing of the lesson plan.

In the end, I should have been the one to “trust the process” and allow for the fact that a complete discussion on one topic (even if it took more than the allotted time) could actually help speed things up down the line because people had a greater understanding of the concepts at play in the session.

Admitting we’re wrong doesn’t mean we lose credibility. We don’t “lose face” if we admit we’re wrong, or if we admit that our design may be flawed. If we see ourselves in true partnership with our learners, sometimes we need the strength and courage to admit we were wrong.

Have you ever had to admit you were wrong in front of the large group? What did that look like?


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