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When Mistakes Are Made; How to Correct Them

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Dedicated to Gert Lüdeking

Training Handout

While criticism seems to be a natural reaction to someone making mistakes, it adds to the problem rather than contributing to its solution

A positive, problem solving approach is more productive and effective for the organization than a negative, problem raising attitude. The same applies in empowering communities. Problems exist. That is a fact of life.

Making mistakes is a characteristic of being human. We all make mistakes. Some religious teachers tell us that only God (or whatever name we have for a higher power) is perfect; to err is human. So that means we, as managers, must be aware that people will make mistakes. That is a fact of life that we need to accept.

It is how we respond or react to those mistakes that is crucial to good or bad management. If we get upset and complain or criticize the person or group that makes a mistake, we do not correct the mistake. We add to the problem.

A positive approach would contribute to the solution. We recognize that the mistake is made, but we emphasize the positive contributions of those who made the mistake. We build up the strengths, self esteem and self confidence of our staff or community members.

Remember that a manager has only one resource, people; make them strong. Those people will not be as loyal, as enthusiastic, as motivated or as helpful when they feel they are being criticized, that their positive attributes are not recognized, or feel that they are worthless. They are not stupid; they know that they made a mistake. If they feel that they have the support of their leader in spite of the mistake, they will try harder. This is a recognized principle of good management.

How then do we incorporate it into our attempt to increase participatory management?

Management is a process of solving problems. If there were no problems then there would be no need for management. It is important to instil in everybody concerned (not just the "boss" or the executive committee) that it is their business to suggest solutions to the inevitable problems. Both community and organizational management training should include in its curriculum the encouragement of this attitude.

One technique that can be taught is through the manipulation of words, which can be used to see any problem from a new perspective. One way, for example, is to write the problem down, on a piece of paper or up on a board in front of participants. Then cross off the word "problem" and write the word "opportunity" in its place. It is a simple tip, but can bring surprisingly good results.

Most mobilizers and animators know the value of a good story, metaphor, parable or anecdote. Here is an appropriate one. Mother Theresa, of Calcutta slums fame, was known for her perpetually positive attitude. One news reporter complained to her that she acted as if she had no problems; how did she do it? "Oh, I have problems," Mother Theresa was reported to have replied, "But when I get them, I simply rename them. I call them gifts," she said.

Be sure to let the person making the mistake be part of the decision making process aimed at correcting the results of the mistake; without laying a guilt trip on that person.

If we as managers are to share the management of an organization or community with the staff or members, then we need to teach some of the basic management principles to them. While the first principle is set in the four key questions, this principle of taking a positive approach, especially to mistakes made, is among the core principles to instil in the trainees.


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2012.06.27

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