June 27, 2013
Why are people and organizations so afraid to admit weakness?
I started the day being interviewed about the future of the advertising and communications industry and how my firm is adapting its capabilities in the face of a rapidly changing environment. During the course of the interview, I shocked the interviewer by acknowledging that, while we are good at many things, we are weak in our ability to rapidly adopt new technologies into our business. His response was that I was the first person of his many interviewees to acknowledge our firm wasn’t perfect. But he didn’t say it as a slight. He said it was a compliment. Not only was he impressed with my openness, he said it gave everything else I talked about more credence.
This afternoon I spoke to a woman, call her Amy, to give a reference for a vendor named John who I do a lot of work with. He is great and I wanted him to get Amy’s business, but his partner is weak…at best. I loudly sang John’s praises. But it wasn’t until I talked about his partner’s weaknesses that Amy responded to my comments. She didn’t use the weaknesses as a reason to dismiss John as an option. Instead, she was disarmed by my honesty, thanked me profusely for it, and she was much more interested in hiring John – and his partner – because now she felt like she had a real sense of what she was getting into.
We see this so frequently in our work. People and organizations afraid to acknowledge their flaws for fear of projecting weakness or losing an opportunity. But infallibility is a myth. And trying to project a perfect image is itself a sign of weakness.
As consumers, we are all skeptical of perfect people and products. In our mind, there is always a catch and we look to find it. If you hide the flaw, we will look harder for it and we will discount your strengths in the process. But if you acknowledge your weaknesses, we feel satisfied that we have found the catch. Then we open ourselves up to listen to your strengths.
Today, credibility is among the most important of business and personal assets. Without it, we can’t persuade, engage or sell to our audiences. And credibility is anchored in our humanity – both as people and as organizations. To earn credibility you must be human. You must be flawed.