3 little words that can change the client relationship…

It’s amazing how much you can say in just 3 words.  A whole wealth of meaning can take up so little space!

This is why we should use them with troubled young people…

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Devonyu

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Devonyu

No, not those 3 words. These: “I was wrong.”

The power of our fallibility…

Teenagers can be arrogant. They can be insistent on hammering home their point, even when it’s quite clearly wrong.

This is part of the challenge of adolescence – learning to assert oneself and make our voice heard. But when someone is wrong, back-peddling is a tougher challenge still!

Sound familiar? Been guilty of this yourself? Me too. Embarrassing isn’t it? All the more so when it involves a young person we’re working with.

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Steps to harnessing our fallibility for the good of young people…

We hold positions of greater power and influence than the kids we work with. That’s inevitable, because we have :

  • …more credibility
  • …more experience
  • …more cash
  • …more options
  • …more authority

To mention a few! Used wrongly, these things can make it harder still to admit our mistakes – which is why it’s all the more important that we do!

“It is nobler to declare oneself wrong than to insist on being right…” Friedrich Nietzsche

Biting the bullet…

When it’s clear to us that we are in the wrong in some way, we must address it. We must also make it known to the young person. Why? Because they probably know anyway.

More than that – it’s the principle of the thing. Admitting our error and apologising is the right thing to do – despite our role or professional position.

  • It sets a good example – young people need a lot more than instruction, they need role models. We can be this by exemplifying what to do when we get it wrong.
  • It flattens out the power structure a little – being wrong and admitting it, says, “I may be a professional (or parent), but professionals are fallible too!” This humanises us, despite our role.
  • It enhances young people’s sense of “value” – apologising and admitting our mistakes says, “you matter.” It ensures that troubled young people are afforded the same “worth” as anyone else.

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  • It adds weight to what we say next time – if we can admit our faults when we’re wrong, young people may place more credibility by what we say next time…
  • It builds trust & respect – deep down, everyone knows they’re fallible. That makes it easier to respect and trust others who admit their faults. In my view humble, fallible people are more comfortable to be around.
“No persons are more frequently wrong than those who will not admit they are wrong.” Francoise De La Rochefoucauld

So, whilst being wrong can be a pain, and a little embarrassing, there’s value in it too – if we deal with it right: admit it (“I was wrong”), put it right (apologise) and crack on!…

Our relationships with young people and our chances of helping them effectively will be enhanced as a result!

Your thoughts?

  • What are your experiences of putting things right with young people when you’ve got it wrong? How has this affected your relationship with them?

Please let me know – join the conversation by leaving a comment below or by clicking here.

Related previous posts…

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© Jonny Matthew 2014

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  • Julie Lyddon

    My experience of working with young people and finding it easy to say ‘I am sorry’ or ‘I was wrong’ powerfully triggered their own ability to understand it was ok to say this. During programmes delivered over several weeks what became noticable and was their ability to then say it to us and to each other and how it would totally change the dynamics of the group.

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks Julie – absolutely right. The benefits go beyond the immediate moment and the individuals concerned, particularly in a group setting. Thanks for sharing the anecdote!