Principle 9:
That it is ok to make mistakes

What do you learn from your mistakes?

Does the wind blow? Did you experience rain today? That's it: What is is. We make mistakes, we don't; the wind blows, it doesn't; it is what is. Your story about it-that's where the heaven or the hell is. But one thing you can count on is that people will make what you consider mistakes. You can fire them, you can yell at them, you can divorce them, and the person in front of you is going to make a mistake, count on it. So all you can really do is sit and investigate that concept. That's as good as it gets. If you believe that people shouldn't make mistakes, welcome to hell.

Byron Katie: Question Your Thinking, Change the World

Without this Principle the others would all be meaningless.

They would just be a set of 'rules' that would often be impossible to follow.

The relevance of this Principle is that it is the key to the other Principles being used as the means through which we can learn to become more effective in our communication, and more effective in our ability to resolve conflict where it has become destructive.

  • Where is your communication used to allocate blame?
  • What do you learn from mistakes in general, whether your own or others'?
  • What is your response to someone making a mistake?

"We can’t afford mistakes!"?
(Too late, it’s happened)

"Someone will swing for this!"?
(How will that stop it happening again?)

  • What does humiliation or punishment do to recover the situation from the effects of the mistake?
  • How much time and energy goes into finding someone to blame instead of into repair, recovery, resolution, learning?

Without this Principle, conflict avoidance and conflict suppression would arise from the other Principles. People would be condemned for 'volunteering others' or for 'challenging the person and not the behaviour' or for 'speaking too often or for too long' etc.

See also the related pages: *Mistakes as Opportunities - written for the Principle Focus section of Newsletter 3

*The No-blame approach - one of the Underlying Philosophies of Mediation

*The No-blame approach and the blame approach - examples

Instead, all these examples of not practising the Principles become opportunities to observe their impact, and to observe the consequences in order to learn from them.

Without this Principle, more effort would go into denial of these consequences or rejection of the Principles than into the enormous learning opportunity to develop the effectiveness of our communication that they provide.

Without this Principle, the likelihood is that continued abdication of our self-responsibility to practice effective communication and our self-responsibility to resolve our own conflicts would occur.

  • If they're not going to stick to the rules why should I?
  • They don't listen to me.
  • Their body language was too defensive for me to talk to them.
  • They kept interrupting me.

....... and so........ I gave up trying to communicate with them..... so it's their fault communication has broken down"

And so impasse occurs.

The destructive conflict becomes chronic, or it escalates, because effective interpersonal communication has ceased to occur. Because it is not considered ok to make mistakes.

The Principles of Effective Communication are not rules. We all make communication mistakes. We are all responsible for the effectiveness of our own communication. Irrespective of whether the person we are communicating with, or in conflict with, is practicing effective communication - in our view.

We - are responsible for - our own - communication.

What others do is up to them. We can't control that.

Return from It is ok to make mistakes to Communication page (The Principles of Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution)

Here is another exploration of 'mistakes' in communication. This time musical communication within the improvisation of jazz. Mistakes are the essence of creativity:

Stefon Harris: There are no mistakes on the bandstand


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A Guide to Effective Communication for Conflict Resolution

A Guide to Effective Communication for Conflict Resolution introduces the 9 Principles that are also described on this site to help the reader develop a 'mindfulness' in relation to their communication in a way that supports the resolution of conflict. In this book

Alan shares his observations and learnings from working as a Mediator and Conflict Coach with regard to the ways that people become stuck in unresolved conflict but also how they go on to create more effective ways forward in their difficult situations. 

"I think you put together so well all the essential components of
conflict transformation in a way which people can relate to and
understand. A brilliant book and I will recommend it to everyone." Jo Berry

Some more comments about this site.....

Hi Alan

It is refreshing to find reading material that informs and inspires and can provide a good resource for small organisations such as ours.

Anne Johnston - The Shropshire Housing Alliance Mediation Service

I did a 1 hour workshop where I presented your Facts and Feelings Listening Exercise. We learned so much about how we listen and the consequences of not listening well that I was asked to purchase your book and have another Listening Meeting.

My team just launched a project that could have whipped the team members and executives into a tremendous conflict. I required everyone to follow your rules for listening and it has been the best implementation we have had in 10years.

Thank you for your generous and comprehensive communications and conflict resolution information.

Angela - Information Technology & Systems VP

'What is a Bully?' Comment on article by Alan which was published on the website

Thank you SO MUCH for this article! It brings forward some very key points about the phenomenon of "bullying" which I have been pondering for some while. Among others, asking to what extent can/should the person on the receiving end of the bullying/perceived to be bullying take responsibility/initiate steps to shift the paradigm? How can this happen without implying that the recipient is somehow responsible for the bullying behavior?

To a certain extent the steps you suggest point to the strategies of NonViolent Communication: Observe and simply describe the behavior, understand and honor your own feelings and needs in the situation, and take responsibility for meeting them by making requests to change the situation.

There has been a significant upsurge of email traffic about bullying in the last year among the members of the Int'l. Ombudsman's Association (principally the academic sector). Much of the exchange, in my view, has tended to favor the stance of "recipient of the behavior as victim," without agency to change the situation, thereby perpetuating the problem and doing a disservice to all. I will be forwarding this article to my colleagues to spice up the conversation!

Laurie McCann, Campus Ombuds, Univ Calif Santa Cruz