Chapter 24: Acknowledging Your Mistakes Before Criticizing Others
My niece Josephine Carnegie came to New York to work as my secretary. She is nineteen years old, graduated from high school three years ago, but she doesn’t have much work experience. But later she became one of the best secretaries west of the Suez Canal. Of course she wasn’t like that at first.
In the beginning she made a lot of mistakes, she making me often have to criticize her. But, every time I was about to do that, I said to myself, “Wait, Dale Carnegie, let’s take a closer look at the matter. My ages are twice that of Josephine. I had ten thousand times more business experience than her. How can I ask her for my opinion, my judgment, my initiative ?
Think back to when you were nineteen years old, what did you look like? Do you remember the mistakes and stupid things you did? Do you remember the time when you did this or that wrong?”
After thinking it over honestly and objectively, I have concluded that Josephine’s nineteen year old average is higher than mine and I must confess that I did not pay as much attention to praising Josephine as I should. So then, when I want to remind Josephine to notice a mistake, I usually start this way: “I think you just made a small mistake, Josephine, but don’t be too upset because it’s not too bad.
Worse than the mistakes you’ve ever made. No one is born with the ability to judge correctly. It comes only with life experience. In fact, you’re better than me when I was your age. I’ve done a lot of wrong and stupid things, so I don’t want to criticize you or anyone. But do you think, if you do it like this, it will be wiser?”.
If the critic humbly admits that he or she has made the same mistake, is it difficult for us to hear about our own? When we dare to admit our mistakes, we have scored points and it proves that we are wiser than before.
E. G. Dillistone, an engineer in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, is having problems with his new secretary. Every letter and document that came to his desk for his signature was full of typos, with at least two or three errors on each page. Dillistone recounts how he handled this:
“Like many engineers, I don’t get compliments on my English or my spelling. I have a notebook where I write words that I often get wrong. From this, I came up with a way to remind the secretary. When the next letter arrived and I discovered there were typos, I sat down next to the secretary who was typing and said, “Looks like the word is wrong. I used to have a hard time with it too.
That’s why I always have a dictation book handy to come to the rescue!” After saying that, I opened the notebook: “Ah! Here it is! The word is here. Now just pay attention to correct spelling, because people will judge me by the letters I write. Spelling mistakes will make them think we’re bad at expertise.”
I don’t know if the secretary copied my notebook or not. But since this exchange, her number of spelling mistakes has decreased significantly.”
Acknowledging our own mistakes, even before we can correct them, can help us convince others to change their behavior. This is illustrated by the story of Clarence Zerhusen of Timonium, Maryland, when he discovered his 15-year-old son was smoking. Zerhusen told us:
“Of course I don’t want Davis to smoke, but his mother and I both smoke. We set a bad example for our children. I told Davis how I had started smoking at his age and how nicotine had taken over me that there was now almost no way for me to stop smoking. I reminded him that smoking gave me a very annoying cough. I do not advise him to stop, nor threaten or warn him about the dangers of tobacco.
All I did was tell him how I became addicted to smoking and how bad it was for me. He thought for a moment and then decided not to smoke before he graduated from high school. As the years passed, Davis never smoked again and had no intention of ever again. As a result of this conversation, I myself decided to stop smoking and with the help of my family, I succeeded.”
Believing that you are right and that you are the only one who is rational is a manifestation of a narrow and stubborn vision.
One of the hardest things in life is admitting you’re wrong. However, there is no more effective solution than to frankly admit that you are wrong.
“If you can’t hold your head up high and admit your mistake, it will control you. Admitting your mistake not only makes others respect you more, but it also develops your own self-esteem. ” – Dale Carnegie
Rule 24: Examine yourself before criticizing others.