Why Mistakes Build Trust

My mechanic taught me something the other day about being a Trusted Advisor. He screwed up in a big way. And I ended up trusting him more as a result.

An Old Car and an Intimate Relationship with AAA

I love old cars and I drive a 19-year-old Mazda Miata as my primary vehicle to prove it. This necessitates an intimate relationship with AAA, as well as Gray’s Auto in Arlington, VA, where I’ve taken my cars for years with good results. A few weeks ago my car overheated on the way to an appointment. AAA came to the rescue, depositing me at Gray’s where Kevin and crew graciously inserted their unexpected visitor near the top of the list of waiting customers. it took days (and a lot of money) to diagnose and fix the problem. When I arrived at the scheduled time to pick up the car, it wasn’t ready–still being test-driven. It didn’t pass the test. I sat in the grimy waiting room for nearly three hours until it was (ostensibly) ready to go. Then half a mile into my drive home it overheated again–dead as a doornail in the right-hand lane of a busy DC thoroughfare. It was Saturday; growing dark; raining. I wasn’t the happiest of campers.

I called Kevin. He was embarrassed and frustrated, and tried valiantly to find a wrecker (on their dime) to retrieve me faster than AAA could. No luck. "We’ll stay open for you," he assured me.

Ninety minutes later my haul and I were back at Gray’s, where Kevin and crew waited to take care of me. They handled the situation beautifully. They were responsible and apologetic, not defensive and guilt-ridden. They didn’t explain or justify or blame; they simply said, "We’ll take care of it." Then Kevin’s boss insisted on driving me home, stopping along the way for take-out (on his dime) so I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner. And in the end, there was no additional charge for the final repair, even though they’d spent considerable money on parts and labor replacing another failed temperature sensor. We joked when I picked up the car the second time about a mutual desire not to see each other again for at least a couple of months.

Trust Doesn’t Just Trump Screw-ups: Screw-ups Can Create Trust

So why do I trust Kevin–and Gray’s Auto–more as a result of this experience? Because I’ve seen their true colors. I know what they stand for. And I am confident that, given another challenging situation, they will rise to the occasion. Could they have fixed the problem the first time? Maybe; I don’t really know and I don’t actually care. What I’m left with is an experience of being looked after by people who chose to do right by me, which far outweighs the costs (tangible and intangible) of a one-time goof.

Mistakes are an opportunity for us to show the world what we’re made of–to make known how we handle ourselves and who we choose to be in a moment of truth. Don’t be afraid to screw-up. When you do (and you will because we all do), don’t cover it up with excuses or defensiveness or blame or avoidance tactics. Show your clients who you are for them. Do the right thing and they’ll learn they can count on you for far more than parts and labor.

7 replies
  1. John Verry
    John Verry says:

    Really enjoyed your post. I have often noted that my strongest relationships often include some moment of “adversity”. I think this blog does a great job of explaining that, specifically your line “Because I’ve seen their true colors.

  2. Mark Slatin
    Mark Slatin says:


    I believe it was you who told me to get it out, pick it up, fix it, and do it again.  I’m butcherng the title of a book you shared – sometime the titles in and of themselves are a great lesson.

    I’m guilty of worrying about "getting it perfect before it goes out" – I need to get off my "S" (self-orientation) more!

    You’re blog here reminds us that it’s not about being perfect.



  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Wonderful post which, for me, underscores the notion that all of life is relationship (we can’t steal alone; we can’t be selfish alone).

    Relationships are the ground of "work" – we work them, they work us…with the ultimate goal of self-awareness and personal growth – if we choose to. Relationships push out buttons and tug on our sleeves so we can see what we need to see about ourselves, to see our blocks. Relationshps are the perfect tool for sanding away our rough edges, again, if we choose to.

    I’m struck by the tone and tenor of you and your mechanic in your approach to this experience…how many would have chosen to see the other as the "enemy" in some fashion, and you both chose to take the high road. Very refreshing. 

  4. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    Thanks to John, Mark, and Peter for the thoughtful commentary.

    John, your thoughts about the strongest relationships including a moment of "adversity" echo what a wise boss once taught me: we don’t have true intimacy in our relationships without having experienced conflict.

    Mark, your note about perfection being high self-orientation reminds me of a plea I once heard from a client for their consultants to deliver "early and ugly." What a great mantra.

    And Peter, your remark about choosing not to see the other as the enemy reminds me of the importance of mindsets in our relationships–and how the lenses through which we choose to see others has a direct impact on how they show up.

    Here’s to partnerships in addition to parts and labor!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] post first appeared on Trusted Advisor Associates’s Trust Matters […]

  2. […] Originally published by Trusted Advisor […]

  3. […] After three hours in the repair shop and lots of money later, the old Mazda Miata broke down half a mile after leaving the garage. So why in the world does the owner still go to them? It’s how they handled the mess-up that made all the difference. Making a mistake does not have to be the end of your business relationships either. (Published on the Trust Matters blog) […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *