Does Admitting Mistakes Hurt Your Credibility?

I’ve never been a fan of blaming other people for my mistakes. It just seems cowardly and childish.

Now I’m not saying I’m perfect as I have PLENTY of faults.

Take for example my habit of sneaking to my favorite roast beef joint 3 nights a week with my friend and completely destroying whatever work I did in the gym that day.

Or perhaps my ability to be extremely interested, immersed and even obsessed with something one day and then have absolutely no desire to even look at it the next… about lack of consistency.

Point being is that I’m far from perfect but the one thing I’ve always prided myself on was the fact that I can usually admit when I’m wrong. This is just something that I’ve never had a problem with like many people do.

You see, many people get caught up with always wanting to be right or never making mistakes but the truth is mistakes are part of being human.

“But Paul doesn’t admitting that you make mistakes damage your credibility which in turn has a negative effect on your ability to influence?” The answer (much to many people’s surprise) is no; it actually enhances your ability to influence.

There are 2 reasons why I say that. The first has to do with personal experience and the other has to do with flat out proof from case studies.

If you personally couldn’t care less about my personal experience and just want the facts, feel free to skip down a few more lines to the case studies.

In my personal experience, anytime you can admit that you’ve made a mistake, you automatically increase your credibility because you appear to be humble and honest; both of which lead to credibility.

Admitting you’re wrong also makes you appear to be well rounded and conscious of all factors when presenting an opinion. This way, when there is a time where you find yourself in debate or disagreement with someone and you’re standing firm, people will respect your position. They won’t just write you off as someone who “always thinks they’re right.”

Admitting you made a mistake also reinforces the fact that you are human which helps people to connect more easily with you. Anytime a person feels they can connect with you, your ability to influence them increases.

Ok, now for the proof. Social scientist Fiona Lee and her colleagues conducted a study to determine if organizations that performed poorly over the course of a year are viewed more positively by the public when they take responsibility for their mistakes and attribute them to something internal or when they shift blame and suggest that external factors were the cause.

They divided participants into 2 groups. One group was an annual report which blamed internal (and potentially controllable) factors while the second group was given a report that blamed external factors.

The results showed that participants who viewed report A (which focused on internal mistakes) viewed the company more positively on number of different levels than the second group who viewed the other report.

Here’s where things get really interesting. The researchers wanted to take things one step further to see if their hypotheses were in fact correct so they collected similar statements from the annual reports of fourteen different companies over 21 years.

They discovered a very interesting trend in that those companies which essentially took accountability and blamed internal, controllable factors on poor earnings,  actually had higher stock process one year later than companies that blamed external factors.

This confirms that people are generally more likely to comply and do business with people or organizations that take responsibility for their mistakes.

Now I’m not insinuating that simply admitting to mistakes gives you the privilege to keep making them and get away with it.  In fact, my belief is that much of these results are predicated on the actual mistake itself meaning that the level of severity does in fact play a role.

Admitting that you made the wrong choice when you hired someone or that you picked a bad stock is different than admitting you outright stole from someone. Each will have a different set of consequences.

That being said, never assume that admitting mistakes will negatively affect you ability to influence.

In most cases, it can actually help.




  • Richard Wachsman says:

    You made some good points. Now please correct your use of the word they’re, It should be their hypotheses, They’re is a contraction for the words they are, I make mistakes too at time. There, I said it.

    • Paul J Mascetta says:

      Thanks for the feedback guys. Guess it’s time to admit my faults as a terrible proof reader. 🙂

  • jessica says:

    Very true. People who suddenly confront others that admit their ´´mistakes´´ tend to even change their ways of acting upon any mistake themselves make thereafter and therefore, to their surprise, become and end more connected to keep a relationship with that one whom openly expressed its wrong doing discovering that it is very human to err. Congrats for such a great post. (p.s. before last sentence..´´with´´ shouldn´t be ´´will´´?)

  • Great post! A related reason for owning up to a mistake is that others who are (all) fallible, can relate to you on a more personal level, enhancing your credibility not just as a sage advisor, but as a human being.

  • Alex Boccino says:

    Its ok when we make mistakes,but should only be considered a mistake when we do it twice,the first time is a learning experience,thats what my granny,may she rest in peace use to tell me .
    Keep up the good work,and God bless all the Lupines.

  • mark says:

    Hi Paul great stuff as usual.
    Its funny that you bring up this point, it’s something I love to do all the time.
    I have studied sales for a long time and always look forward to your emails but this is something that I’ve never seen anywhere else and as I say I have been using this for a good while now and it really does work.I am happy to say to the customer..that’s a really good question and no one has ever asked that before but let me find out for you.I think it makes the customer feel
    like they have come up with something clever and as you say it shows that the sales person is only human and they are prepared to find out for the customer rather than just trying to bluff the way through.p.s I think used more than once or maybe twice is looking like you don’t really know your stuff.Cheers Paul keep up the good work.

  • Dorcas Akai says:

    yeah, admiting mistakes truly helps in moving a head than shifting blames ,acceptance always is key to corrective measures for challenges and a sense of maturity.

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