Admit fault and move on
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Admit fault and move on
by: Rick Hanson
Have you ever watched two people quarrel, or otherwise be stuck in a conflict
with each other? Usually, if either or both of them simply acknowledged one or
more things, that would end the fight.
Recall a time someone mistreated you, let you down, dropped the ball, made an
error, spoke harshly, was unskillful, got a fact wrong, or affected you
negatively even if that was not their intention. (This is what I mean, very
broadly, under the umbrella heading of “fault.”) If the person refuses to admit
fault, how do you feel? Probably dismayed, frustrated, uneasy, distanced, less
willing to trust, and more defensive yourself. The interaction – and even the
relationship – gets stuck on the unadmitted fault and is shadowed, dragged down,
and constrained as a result.
On the other hand, if this person had admitted the fault, how would you have
reacted? Probably pretty well! When someone admits fault (always broadly
defined, in my usage here) to me, I feel safer, on more solid ground, more at
ease, warmer toward them – and more willing to admit faults myself.
Turn this around, and you can see the benefits in admitting faults to others.
It cuts to the heart of the matter, reduces a cause of their anxiety or anger,
let you move on to other topics (including your own needs), takes the wind out
of their sails if they’re lambasting you, and puts you in a stronger position to
ask them to admit fault themselves. And as part of admitting fault, it’s natural
and important to sincerely commit to avoiding this fault as best you can in the
Then you can get beyond the hassle and bad feelings of the unadmitted fault,
and move on to something more positive.
For example, recently our adult son called me on a certain – ah – intense
positionality I sometimes expressed when he was growing up. I sputtered and
deflected awhile in response, but then had to admit the truth of what he was
saying (and acknowledge him for his courage in saying it), and told him I
wouldn’t do this any more. When I said this, he felt better and I felt better.
And then we could move on to good things – like more sushi!
Start by reminding yourself how it is in your own best interests to admit
fault and move on. We might think that admitting fault is weak or that it lets
the other person off the hook for his or her faults. But actually, it takes a
strong person to admit fault, and it puts us in a stronger position with others.
Sort out your fault(s) – mistake, unskillfulness, misdeed, error, etc. – from
the other pieces of the puzzle of the interaction or relationship. Don’t
overstate your fault out of guilt or appeasement. Be clear and specific in your
own mind as to what the fault is – and what is not a fault. You, not anyone
else, are the judge of what your fault is.
Admit the fault directly. Be simple and direct. It’s alright to express or
explain the context of the fault – like you were tired or upset about something
else – but avoid justifying the fault, or getting lawyerly about it; and
sometimes, especially in charged situations, it’s best to simply acknowledge
your fault without any explanation wrapped around it.
Try to be empathic and compassionate about the consequences of your fault for
the other person. Remind yourself why this is good for you to do! Stay on the
topic of your fault for a reasonable amount of time; don’t jump quickly to the
faults of the other person, but don’t let the other person repetitively pound
you for your fault after you’ve admitted it.
Make a commitment inside your mind, and perhaps to the other person, not to
do this fault again.
When it feels right, disengage from discussing your fault. Then it could be
appropriate to bring up ways the other person could help you in not doing the
fault in the future (e.g., getting home in time to help with dinner will help
you not yell at the kids). Or bring up a fault of the other person.
And then – sheesh! – it’s time to move on. To more positive topics, or to
stepping back in the relationship, or to more productive ways of relating with
Last, to plant a seed I’ll explore in a future JOT, it’s also good to admit a
personal fault to yourself . . . and then to let go of guilt, self-criticism,
and inadequacy, and to move on to self-compassion, self-care, self-worth,
happiness, and inner peace.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report, and Huffington Post, and he is the author of the best-selling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. He writes a weekly newsletter - Just One Thing - that suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.
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