The Bible has something to say about weakness. “But He said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness… Therefore, I am content with weakness… For when I’m weak, that I’m strong. 2 Cor 12. But the power and weakness is beyond the Biblical teaching and plays an important role in persuasion and advocacy.
For example, marketing expert Trey Ryder has written an article “Admit a Negative to vastly Increase your Credibility.” He says that when you make a statement that appears to be against your interest, your credibility soars. He cites one of the most successful mail order copywriters who used this technique in every print ad he wrote by admitting at the beginning of the at a weakness in the products he was promoting.
Rick Warren has said that: “admitting your mistakes doesn’t make you weak, it makes you credible. Francisco Dao wrote an article “can you admit you were wrong? In it he points out that while admitting our mistakes may sound simple, our psychological wiring works against this. Cognitive dissonance means that our minds actively look for evidence to support the decisions we’ve already made and our own self-image. This kind of confirmation bias is so strong that we end up convincing ourselves of things that make no sense otherwise. He suggests that since confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance are hardwired into our minds we have trouble admitting we’ve made a mistake and if we do admit it we make excuses at the same time. Our own experience is that it is rare for leaders to accept responsibility for a mistake without also offering excuses or extenuating circumstances. While political leaders have problems clearly and candidly admitting mistakes or weaknesses the example of President Kennedy and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion should be followed. Kennedy said: “this administration intends to be candid about its errors. For as a wise man once said, an error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it. The final responsibility for the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion was mine and mine alone.” Offering no excuses or justifications Kennedy’s popularity skyrocketed.
This refusal to accept responsibility for weaknesses and mistakes while blaming others is ingrained into our culture. Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson have reviewed this in their book Mistakes were Made, but not by Me. When a mistake is viewed as a failure that cannot be tolerated people have difficulty admitting their mistakes.
Amy Rees Anderson has written an article Admitting you were Wrong doesn’t Make you weak – It makes you Awesome! She argues that:
- weakness enlarges empathy because those who embrace their own frailties understand others better.
- Weakness reduces arrogance. Leaders who don’t see their weaknesses are generally arrogant people.
- Admitting weakness increases our credibility with others
Certainly the opposite of weakness, power, has its own dangers. Lord Acton is famous for observing: “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” James F Burns noted that “power intoxicate’s men. When a man is intoxicated by alcohol he can recover, but when intoxicated by power he seldom recovers.” In addition power and pride go together. Excessive pride obscures the knowledge that humility is the indispensable virtue for greatness.
Where does all of this lead us intellectually? Well, for one thing, knowing the weaknesses of your case and having the courage to openly admit them to a jury (in the most favorable framing) is a powerful act. First, it increases your credibility greatly and second, it inoculates the jurors from any shock by a later disclosure by defendant. Then there is the benefit of being seen as honest, truthful and trustworthy. Furthermore, there is the added subconscious benefit in the jury natural inclination to help the helpless or root for the underdog. What’s our reaction to a child in need or a baby or anyone suffering? It is to reach out and help. In a David vs Goliath struggle, who do we root for? There is great power in weakness if we have the courage to expose it publically.
Then there is the matter of admitting our mistakes, openly, clearly and without excuse or evasion. I have a friend who is now retired and was an outstanding plaintiff’s attorney. He once told me about a trial in which his expert witness was totally undone on cross examination to the point the witness was a complete disaster. He said that in summation he accepted full responsibility for failing in his obligation to ensure he presented only credible and qualified experts. He confessed his great embarrassment and shame at having lost their trust in him, but asked them not to punish his client for having a lawyer who failed in his duty to his client. The verdict reflected that the jury had forgiven him because he had been totally honest and truthful about the witness disaster, had not made excuses and took full responsibility. That’s the power of conceding our mistakes even when it is embarrassing and painful.