Being Okay with Being Wrong
One of my first jobs when I moved to NY was teaching high school. They say if you can teach in NYC and survive then anywhere else is a piece of cake. After the first few days of year one, I agreed wholeheartedly. In that first year, I had cornflakes thrown at me, broke up 5 fights, had a few personal items stolen from my desk, and learned more about teaching than I did in all of undergrad. The most important lesson I learned though came from one particular instance of discipline in my classroom.
It was the last few weeks before Christmas vacation, and I was barely hanging on. I was doing everything I could to keep discipline in the classroom and had instituted a new rule: if you talked at all during a quiz or test you got a zero. I was feeling pretty good about this and had maintained some sense of order.
Then, the unthinkable happened….
One of my star students who was so well behaved and always got the highest grades in class accidentally bumped into the student behind him while handing his paper back and politely said for the entire quiet room to hear, “I’m sorry.”
I froze. I had just given a very specific rule and I really was supposed to take his paper and give him a zero. I could have given him the zero in that moment, but instead, I looked down at my papers as if nothing had happened and buried myself in my correcting. A few minutes later, I looked up to find one of the worst behaved kids in the class leaning over and asking his friend for the answer to #3.
I sprang into action.
I moved quickly and took that students paper and ripped it up. He got up and knocked his desk over and screamed, “Oh really? You’re gonna ignore him (pointing at the A student) and then give me a zero? This isn’t fair!”
I was dumbstruck. He was right. What I was doing was not fair. I kicked him out of the room and sent him to the dean, but afterwards sat in the faculty room replaying the events in my head. I learned a very important lesson that day: if you set rules and expect people to follow them you can’t stretch those rules for anyone.
I was wrong and I had to be okay with that to move on.
All too often in business and in life, we don’t want to accept when we’re wrong, yet those moments are often when we learn the most important lessons. Every time I get upset at someone else, I take a moment to remember that experience in the classroom and ask myself if maybe I have done something wrong or been unfair. If I have, I acknowledge it and see what I can do to fix it.
We have to be okay with being wrong. It happens to all of us. The real question comes down to: what we do when we’re made aware of it?
Think of a time when you’ve been wrong and how you handled it. Could you handle it better next time?
Food for thought.