Here’s a simple ritual to help improve your EQ skills — especially if you’re managing or collaborating with other people.

When you make a mistake, do two things:

1) Acknowledge and take responsibility for the mistake;

2) Do what you can to rectify the situation.

It’s impossible to be perfect 100% of the time.

When you make a mistake and take the steps above, you show others two things:

A) You accept personal responsibility for your actions and won’t unfairly blame others when you mess up.

B) You’re fair to others when you mess up, so it’s far more likely you’ll be fair when they mess up.

It’s one thing to apologize to your boss when you make a mistake. It’s another when you’re the boss, and you apologize to your employee.

In the former, if you don’t apologize and make things right, you risk getting fired.

In the latter, if you don’t apologize, nothing bad happens to you personally. In the short run, you can frankly get away with not acknowledging your mistakes to your direct reports.

However, as a leader, how you handle your own mistakes sets a tone and culture for how mistakes will be treated in your organization, department, or team.

When something goes wrong, one of two things happens:

1) All the energy goes into trying to assign blame to someone else.

2) Whoever made the mistake acknowledges it, and all the energy goes into trying to prevent the same problem from occurring in the future.

The problem with the “blame assignment” game is that often so much energy is expended on blame assignment (and counter-assignment), nobody has any energy left to prevent the problem from happening again.

In a blame-oriented culture, preventing a problem from occurring again in the future = admitting you should be blamed.

Being blamed = your career is at risk.

In blame cultures, problem prevention gets subordinated and often skipped entirely.

In a problem-solving culture, admitting you are at fault simply paves the way to focus more on problem prevention.

So the next time you make a mistake, simply say the following:

“I’m sorry. That was my fault.

“Would you be willing to work with me to figure out how to prevent this problem from happening again in the future?”

This approach works well with direct reports and colleagues.

(It also works well with spouses and your children.)

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