Making a mistake is like losing a piece to your puzzle
In an NLP training this weekend, we were talking about the problem of getting people in a particular profession to own up to mistake. Within moments, we realized it wasn't about a particular profession. Most people find it really hard to admit they've made a mistake.
If you don't own up to making mistakes, it's hard to learn from them. That's like paying for something and walking out of the store with empty hands. You have the pain of the mistake without the gain of learning from it. This is even more true for organizations. If people won't own up to mistakes, the whole organization misses out on the learning that should come from them.
Making a mistake is like losing one piece to your puzzle. If you don't own up to the mistake, no one is going to know that what they just picked up in the the piece you need to complete your puzzle. So as an individual and as an organization, you face the same choice. Am I okay with a puzzle that looks like this, a puzzle that is mostly complete but has one or two holes in significant places?
When you're dealing with someone you know has made a mistake, recognize that they are feeling like they just made a puzzle only to find that they were missing one key piece. You'll need to address that feeling if you want to get beyond the mistake. Sometimes this will mean making them feel more comfortable and sometimes it will mean using the energy in frustration to drive a different action.
And when you're the one that's made the mistake, ask yourself what it will take to complete your puzzle. You'll probably have to approach someone who has the missing piece and ask for it. It will be uncomfortable. You won't do it if you don't have a clear image of what you are building with your effort and your action. But when you know that the mistake has left a hole in something you care about achieving, you'll go through the risk of admitting your mistake to get to the missing piece.