“Being ashamed of our mistakes turns them into crimes.” -Confucius

In a study by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, participants had to give a speech in front of a room full of other students and were judged on how well they did. The results were strongly influenced by what people were told to focus on.

The first group was told that mistakes were not allowed and they were to focus on not making mistakes. The second group was told that mistakes were OK and would be forgiven. The third group was told that mistakes were encouraged and should be immediately incorporated into the speech itself.

The students in the third group reported that they felt most comfortable during the speech. Further, audience members judged students in the third group as being more composed, effective, creative, and intelligent.

Similar findings exist for athletes. Studies show that anxiety before a match does not have a negative effect on performance. However, worrying about being judged does negatively impact performance.

As Todd Kashdan points out in his book Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, allowing yourself space to make mistakes actually makes you a better speaker and conversation partner.

Do you feel safe to make mistakes in your work environment?


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