May 30, 2024

Why do we always seem to focus on mistakes?

One day a school teacher wrote the following on the chalk board:

9 × 1 = 7
9 × 2 = 18
9 × 3 = 27
9 × 4 = 36
9 × 5 = 45
9 × 6 = 54
9 × 7 = 63
9 × 8 = 72
9 × 9 = 81
9 × 10 = 90

When she was done, she looked to the students, who were all laughing at her because her first equation was wrong. She was trying to demonstrate how the world rarely rewards you for all the hundreds and hundreds (in this case nine) correct answers you have but instead focuses freely on your errors. This is one of the clearest examples of the Knower/Judger in operation.

  1. I KNOW that 9 x 1 = 9.
  2. The teacher wrote that 9 x 1 = 7 which, I JUDGE, doesn’t match what I know.
  3. Therefore, I JUDGE it as wrong.

But was the answer wrong? Or could there be another reason she wrote it that way? Did it extrapolate to a lesson on how the K/J creates barriers and blocks progress? In the long run, the teacher’s goal was to impart wisdom upon her charges that the world in general lives in the K/J realm—judging—and that no matter how many correct responses to life’s issues you present, those around you will frequently choose to focus on the few that were not as good as the others.

I can’t work on the rest of the world (although I’ve worked with many). I can, however, modify my own response mechanisms.

If I look at what she wrote from my Learner/Researcher perspective, I might raise my hand and ask, “Teacher, why did you write that 9 x 1 = 7?”, instead of ridiculing her for a statement that doesn’t match my math education.

See the difference?

I’ve found a dozen ways over the years to express my belief in Dr. Wayne Dyer’s quote,

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

Perhaps there’s no better opportunity to exercise that choice than the moment I am about to “correct” someone else’s obvious (to me) mistake—or worse, laugh at it.

I have no way of knowing how the other person arrived at the presented conclusion (they all aren’t as simple as 9 x 1). Perhaps they have different data than I do. Perhaps they have seen the problem before and were told they were correct. Perhaps they learned the solution from their parents or predecessor and it’s the only answer they’ve ever known. Possibly they’re just ignorant or stubborn. And there are probably hundreds of other possible factors.

I may actually be correct (i.e., my solution produces the desired or correct outcome when the other person’s does not). And I may want to have my “rightness” rule the decision moving forward. Do I actually think that ridiculing my co-worker’s, family member’s, or team mate’s solution will bode well? Or will it just make me feel superior?

In my management coaching, I often hear that it is most expedient to provide your ‘correct’ solution: “You’re wrong. Do it my way.” Yes, that may get the ball rolling faster, but at what cost? Have I just alienated a team mate, lowered their trust in me, or made them less likely to offer answers in the future?

OK, so I don’t want to insist that I’m correct or right at the moment of impact. How then do I respond from my L/R and keep the exchange productive? There’s a formula for this:

  1. Acknowledge their answer.
  2. Ask how they arrived at that conclusion.
  3. Show them how or why you have another answer.
  4. Show them how you arrived at your conclusion.
  5. Invite their thoughts on your conclusion.

In other words, share data, not jabs. Share education, not ill will. I believe asking questions is always kinder than criticizing. Yes, it’s energy- and time-consuming. Yet I strongly believe that your relationship with your co-workers, family members, and team mates is worth that investment.

9 x 1 = 7. I wonder how.


One thought on “Why do we always seem to focus on mistakes?

  1. Kim,
    Great, great article – only wish I had read that about five years ago! Unknowingly, I was using (my version) the K/J format dealing within a multi-national corporate environment with mostly negative, to me, results. And as you mention, with continued negative results, future involvement became moot…aka – no goof loops!
    With corporate life mostly behind me there are plenty of opportunities to use K/J in daily activities…especially adding in the Dyer quote.

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