Nobody relishes making mistakes, but sometimes they can be good.  In our strategy implementation work with clients, we often get involved coaching leaders on how to be more effective in their roles.  Some time ago, I was working with a really smart client who was trying to improve her influence with her team by turning up her listening skills.  Her people sometimes thought she had her mind made up already and tuned them out, especially when conversations got heated up.  And as a pretty passionate person who values debate, that happened often.

During one of our regular meetings, she sheepishly told me about a blow-up she had had with one of her key team members.  “We had a disagreement and both of us got pretty angry.  I acted downright dismissive to this person and he was practically insubordinate to me.”

I could tell that my client felt like this was a major failure.  I didn’t feel that way.

“This presents a great opportunity,” I said. “You can go back to your team member, own your part of the break-down, say you’re sorry, and tell him you’ll try to do better next time.”

“But it wasn’t all my fault.  Am I supposed to just gloss over his part of the mess?”

“Of course not,” I answered. “He has to own his stuff too, but you’re the leader and leaders go first.  I’ll bet if you own what you can honestly own from the situation, he’ll respond in kind.”

Not only did my client follow through on her decision, but she reported that the incident had actually strengthened her relationship with this key staff member. It just goes to show what John Gottman’s research on relationships has suggested – that mistakes are inevitable and that sincere efforts to repair damage are much more important than the mistakes themselves.

It’s worth thinking about – are there mistakes or conflicts facing you right now (with colleagues, clients, or key suppliers/partners) that are relationship-building opportunities in disguise? How can you capitalize on them?