How do I handle a question about past mistakes?

Let’s admit the truth. None of us is perfect. There are no perfect products. No system is perfect. No organization is perfect.

So don’t pretend to be perfect or try to project an image of perfection to your clients, colleagues or the public. I didn’t say that you need to reveal all your flaws. Just don’t defend when someone points out a mistake. Admit the error and move on.

If you are not perfect this means that you made some mistakes along the way. And someone will point out that past failure, complain about poor performance or challenge you on a flaw.

You might have heard the analogy that an airplane is off course 80% of the time. The pilot or autopilot needs to keep adjusting to get to the destination. As long as you arrive safely at the destination you probably don’t care how many course corrections were made.

Perhaps you are speaking to a group of clients to launch a new product or promote a new program. A person in the audience loudly grumbles about defective product in their last purchase.

First, focus on your destination not on the errors or course corrections.

If you focus on the flaw, the danger is that you might trap your thinking into defending the flaw. If you do that, you will appear guilty.

Instead, break the question or challenge into at least two parts.

Step One – Admit the truth
Say, “I hear two questions there. The first question is ‘Is our system perfect?’ The answer is no. We have experienced an X percent defect rate. That is better than the industry average but we still want to improve. That’s why we invested Y dollars in process improvement over the past five years.”

Acknowledge the flaw and explain what you are doing to address it.

Step two – Accentuate the positive
“The second question I heard is ‘Does our warranty program continue to be the best in the industry?’ The answer is yes. If you haven’t yet reported this issue then I’m happy to help you resolve this setback.”

Sometimes there might be a third question.

Most reasonable people simply expect you to acknowledge the truth and tell them what you are doing to fix things.

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Written by gtorok



© George Torok. You may reprint or quote this information as long as you quote the source and link back to this site.

George Torok was a shy student who learned how to speak in public. He has delivered over 1,000 professional presentations. He trains professionals, specialists and sales teams to deliver Superior Presentations. He coaches executives and leaders to deliver million dollar presentations. Visit or © George Torok. You may reprint or quote this information as long as you quote the source and link back to this site.

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