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Posted Tuesday, November 30, 2010, at 9:39 AM

By: Lisa Earle McLeod



Isn't it frustrating when people don't take responsibility for their mistakes?

From the coworker who can't seem to get their projects in on time to the spouse who consistently forgets to pick up the dry cleaning, there's always a reason, and it's never their fault. The traffic was terrible; Joe didn't get me his data; I wasn't sure what you wanted. The list goes on and on.

It's easy to spot problems in other people, but who among us hasn't done the same thing?

We formulate excuses for our tardiness before we walk in the door. We get defensive when someone reminds us of something we forgot to do. Or we minimize the importance of a mistake, telling ourselves that our failure to do whatever really isn't that bad, and when you think about, where did they get the right to saddle us with this thing in the first place?

It's a natural human tendency to avoid potentially painful situations. Admitting that you made an error or fell short of the mark feels like it would be painful, so we instinctively avoid it.

But in another ironic case of "avoiding the potential conflict actually results in more conflict," we cause ourselves more pain by not taking responsibility.

Most people will forgive a mistake. It's when you get defensive and try to wiggle out of it that causes the bigger problems.

Internet guru Michael Alvear describes how he learned this lesson:

"It was early in my advertising career. My boss was out of town. Some ad copy came over from copywriting. I looked at it and thought, 'Well that's not very good.' But I wasn't in charge, so I let it go.

My boss was soooo angry. She blasted me over the phone. I got immediately defensive. It wasn't my job to stop these things. It was the copywriting people who had done a bad job, not me. And besides, it wasn't that bad. I got more defensive, and she kept getting madder.

Then all of a sudden I stopped, and said, 'You're right; it's not good. I should have stopped it. First let me apologize for not being a good gatekeeper. Second, I'm going to walk over to copywriting right now to find out why this turned out the way it did and how we can prevent it in the future.'

She paused, took a deep breath and said, 'Thank you.' We were on the same team again. All the energy was now directed at solving the problem."

Martial arts students learn that it's more powerful to redirect energy than to fight against it.

Getting defensive about a mistake is fighting the energy. Resistance only causes the other person to push back harder.

I'm not suggesting that you give in on things that are important to you. But if you've made a mistake, just own it. When you apologize and take steps to fix it, the energy goes towards the solution, rather than fighting about the problem.

Taking responsibility for things doesn't cause you more conflict; it causes you less conflict. It's avoiding accountability that escalates and prolongs problems.

Accountability is a funny word. It can sound punitive, restrictive and downright mean when we apply it to others.

But holding yourself accountable is actually empowering. People who take responsibility for their actions know: being accountable for your mistakes gives you the power to fix them.

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Angst is in the air: Be careful it's catching
Lisa Earle McLeod
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.