What happened to the days of owning up to our mistakes? Everyday we see starlets, politicians, CEOs and others behaving badly, yet it’s rare for a public figure to accept the blame for his or her mistakes. Instead, it seems there is always someone else to point the finger at.

As a business owner, you may be similarly hesitant to admit to a client or prospect that you have made a mistake, and yet doing so in a constructive way can actually help your brand. So says author Michael Houlihan, in his soon-to-be-released book The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine. According to Houlihan and co-author Bonnie Harvey, admitting a mistake can be a valuable opportunity to gain loyalty and respect.

Clients and prospects will judge you not by how you perform when you are at your best, but how you perform when you are at your worst. “The fact is, everyone—and every company—makes mistakes. Denying that they have happened usually exacerbates and magnifies an already awkward situation because chances are, you aren’t fooling anyone and you appear insincere. In fact, in a very real way, trying to dodge responsibility can hurt your reputation more than simply owning up to the mistake in the first place,” he explains.

And Houlihan knows what he is talking about. With very little experience in winemaking, he and Harvey founded Barefoot Cellars in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County, Calif., farmhouse. Naturally, they made mistakes along the way. “So early on, Bonnie and I made a conscious decision to confront our mistakes, and to view them as opportunities to learn and grow. I believe that attitude is part of what ultimately made Barefoot Cellars successful.”

With humility and honesty, Houlihan and Harvey admitted when they had erred and found that this approach helped diffuse tense situations. By forthrightly acknowledging their missteps, the pair found that they were more often remembered for how they had handled their errors rather than the errors themselves.

If you’re ready to admit to a mistake, here are the steps Houlihan recommends:

  • Cop to it. Yes, it’s tough to admit you’re wrong, but the sooner you do so, the sooner you can short circuit the drama and the faster you can move on to the next, more important step: what you are going to do about it.
  • Identify how it happened. If you admit fault but do nothing about it, then you have set the stage for it to happen again. At Barefoot, Houlihan always made sure that employees felt comfortable reporting mistakes so that they could take steps to rectify them.
  • Aim, don’t blame. If a mistake truly can be traced to a source outside your company, the best approach is to determine what you can do from your end to prevent the situation from recurring.
  • Write it down. Even if you have resolved the issue that led to a mistake, if you don’t record what has happened and how to avoid it in the future, you are in danger of repeating it.
  • Resolve that it won’t recur. Explain to the injured party the steps you are taking to ensure it will not happen again. If you handle an error in this way, you will reinforce that you are, in fact, a trustworthy company to be relied upon.

“Remember, what people recall most of all is how you handle missteps and errors, not what they were,” he concludes. “So don’t miss out on these golden opportunities to show your integrity, reduce the drama, and improve the way your business operates. That is how you make mistakes right.”

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