Discussing Mistakes for Growth

Need a topic for a brainstorming session or a leadership development session? Talk about mistakes. “What mistake did you make recently, which was a good learning experience?”

I am part of a group of leaders who meet routinely to reflect on the day’s plan and how the small steps fit into the big picture. It could be considered a mastermind group from the approach of Napoleon Hill. Someone started talking about learning from mistakes and the connection to experience. We turned this session into a more extensive discussion on “good” mistakes.

There are numerous kinds of good mistakes. Here are three general categories.

  • What you said, how you said it, or what you did not say. Many people use sarcasm, comedy, cynicism, or other styles in communications. In most cases, these styles hurt communication and connection. Also, we do not always need to say something, but there will be moments when a few simple words will impact.
  • Forgetting to Listen Deeply: We all have situations where we should actively listen. The two big reasons we made those listening mistakes are a.) we were too busy thinking what we wanted to say or b.) we were too distracted by something else.
  • Jumping at the First Solution:  We are busy. We dislike conflict. We want to be seen as decisive. How often have you selected the first solution only to find that time or input from others would have led to several better options. 

Use one or two of these examples to start the discussion. Work with the participants to dig deep on each mistake, possible changes, and learning experiences. Many people have a problem with deep reflection. Try to create a safe, supportive environment where people can openly discuss their mistakes. Be ready to challenge people with follow-up questions. Like handling sales objections, Frank Bettger’s two follow-up questions, “why” and “in addition to that,” also apply to helping someone reflect on learning from mistakes.

Many other examples of good mistakes will emerge. Work with them. You may want to repurpose the cliche “there are no bad questions.” There are no bad mistakes, as long as you learn from them and other people learn from them.

You can keep the discussion’s overview simple with Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”