Admitting mistakes

When politicians admit mistakes they don’t need to cry, or even be contrite, but they do need to demonstrate that the admission is based on understanding what went wrong.

A good apology has a structure: admit being wrong, describe what was right, describe and apologise for the impact of being wrong, and describe what you have learned.

These sort of apologies build the esteem of a politician (as long as there are not too many of them). They show people you are not blinkered, arrogant or single minded – and that you can listen, learn, and you feel.

New Zealand Education Minister Hekia Parata today illustrated an incomplete apology formula.

She today “apologised” for “mistakes” in 2012 – but she won’t say what they were, or what she learned from them. 

We have four options when the narrative among those important to us is that we have made mistakes.

  1. Agree and publicly concede
  2. Agree but let the matter pass without public acknowledgement
  3. Disagree but publicly and graciously concede
  4. Disagree and argue our position publicly

All the options, carried out in style, can result in raising the esteem in which you’re held. Apologies are not always necessary as a response to controversy.

Which-ever option you take, you must be totally committed to it. If you’re half-hearted, it is guaranteed not to work, and will probably make things worse.

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