Why don't people admit errors or wrongdoing?

It has always been my policy to “fess up if I mess up”*. It really throws people off, because they’re so used to excuses. At the same time, it makes me an “honest” person in their eyes, something they’re also not used to. I’ve had Highway Patrolmen knock 25mph off of speeding tickets, judges cut my fine by 80%, and managers praise me for detailing work errors to them.

So,then: why is it that people try to get away with things? Are we hard-wired to lie and do our damnedest to convince people that we didn’t do anything wrong, or it wasn’t our fault?

*Og, I hate to use a phrase that a rah-rah VP used in a corporate webcast, but it does seem to fit.

What a strange concept. I’ve never found myself in that situation, but if I ever make a mistake, I’ll let you know what I do. :smiley:

That sort of thing tends to be highly situational.

Admission of guilt or fault can lead to prosecution in ever the slightest cases.

I’ll freely say that I’m wrong, but if if fuels anything negative towards me. It’s not in my best interest to maintain that position.

Gah. A genuine apology seems to have no meaning anymore.

I was just about to post something about this in the Pit. A lady took her eyes off the road and smacked into the truck behind me while we were all (all except for her) stopped at a light, doing a lot of damage to that guy’s truck and shoving it into mine. Happened in broad daylight with a CHP motorcycle officer in the lane next to us, he saw everything that happened. The lady admitted what had happened and was very sorry.

Now, three months later, after tons of paperwork and an enormous amount of hassle with her insurance company, I get a check to handle the minor medical expenses (I had to go to the ER to get my neck x-rayed and have a doctor check me out). Along with the check is a sheet I’m supposed to sign, stating that “I understand and agree that this settlement is the compromise of a doubtful and disputed claim, and that this payment is not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of [guilty driver], who expressly denies liability”.

What the hell? She did something dumb and crashed into stopped traffic, right in front of a cop. She admitted it was her fault. If they’d just sent me the damn check and said “This absolves us of any further liability” I would be happy to get this all over with, but that extra bit of paperwork comes across as a gigantic “Screw You”. It’s like they asked me to sign something saying “Valgard agrees that he is a poopyhead”. From my perspective this isn’t about wanting to sue her or the like (because I don’t) - if she and her insurance company just said “It was an accident, we’re terribly sorry, we’re taking care of the hospital bill and the repairs” I’d be fine. But that extra bit of paperwork is just slimy.

I’m the same way as you, blondebear. I don’t understand why people don’t admit to their errors, because we’re supposed to all be human, right? People make mistakes. I feel like there are far too many people in the world running around in denial about their own humanity. It’s such a waste of time.

I’m sorry. It was wrong of me to to not admit my wrongdoing. I won’t do it again.

I think it probably stems broadly from our experiences as a child (doesn’t everything?) and what we got away with. Some kids are bad at lying and figure out that it pays off to be up-front about their wrong doings. Other’s get good at not being caught and when they do get caught or admit fault they have bad experiences, and so that’s how they live their life.

I will sometimes admit to something I’ve done wrong and I will sometimes hide the deed. It depends on my mood, the circumstances, who I need to admit my transgression to, and the likelihood of being caught anyway (yes, I know that an ethical person should always admit to wrongdoing; I make no claim to being highly ethical). Hiding wrongdoing is a means of self-protection, and I really don’t like getting yelled at.

I’d put myself sort of “middle of the road” in this ethical quandary. Yes, I have hidden my own wrongdoing many times. However, I do not “frame” specific other individuals in order to hide my wrongdoing (i.e. I don’t try to make it look like “That asshole Joe Blow just screwed up the database again”; however I may try to make it look like “Some unknown asshole just screwed up the database again”).

Again, yes I know hiding one’s mistakes is unethical; I’m just being honest (more or less :dubious: ).

Fear of punishment?

I thought I was wrong once but I was mistaken.

It’s self-perpetuating to a degree. When peole are loath to admit their mistakes, to openly admit your own makes you seem particularly incapable. There are therefore many who will seize on that admission and make trouble for your, far more than the error originally warranted. Therefore, people would prefer to keep silent - better safe than sorry.

For me it depends on the circumstance. Mostly it depends on how other people will react.

If I’m faced with someone who will lecture me for hours on end for some insignificant bullshit, then I will keep quiet. I stopped showing my grades to my parents because they would complain about a 90% test score.

I think I just really hate lectures and will probably avoid them at all costs.

I guess it depends on the error. Is the error small enough where you can just say, “oops” and move on with no or minimal consequence?

Otherwise, people deny or fail to admit error or wrongdoing because people like to keep their jobs / money / low insurance rates / famlies / clean criminal record / etc. if they can help it… not that it makes it right.

In terms of civil liability, a person can ADMIT fault and pay everything or DENY fault and maybe settle a claim for 90%, 60%, 50%, or less, or even escape liability completely. This can often mean a savings of thousands of dollars. Who wants to lose thousands of dollars?

That’s standard boilerplate language in a settlement agreement about denying liability. They didn’t alter the agreement to fit the specific case. No surprise there.

Also, the “extra paperwork” is there because YOU know that you don’t want to sue her and you will accept a costs payment as full and final settlement of the claim, but THEY don’t know your intentions. Without the agreement, containing your affirmative statement that the settlemnt is complete, you could cash their check and turn around and sue for pain and suffering, etc. They want to be sure that you don’t do that.

Both my wife and her father are almost incapable of apologizing or admitting their mistakes. They absolutely cannot see the problem at all and don’t understand what people are complaining about. We have been together 16 years and there have been maybe five apologies tops and those came from iron-clad evidence of egregious wrongdoing and, even then, the apologies were of the type of “I am sorry that you are angry with me.” If we ever get a divorce, that will be a root cause. Both my wife and FIL will instantly take a criticism of themselves and shift it to something you did months or even years ago to turn the tables. It is really bizarre.

I was always taught to admit to your mistakes. However, I have found that behavior is not rewarded in the corporate world. I have been semi-reprimanded twice for sending out a group e-mail that explained in detail a problem that I could have partially caused or caught given perfect circumstances and the way that I also solved it. My bosses at the time explained that they wanted no admission of even partial guilt coming from their area so I should just use vague corporate speak to write any future communications of that nature that give some information but no responsibility to anyone.

People that can’t give a true, earnest apology based on an an honest introspective look on their own behavior scare me and I have always gotten that feeling that many supposed humans are robots based on them.

My guess is no one wants to look bad.

Often my first reaction is to accept responsibility and apologize even when I didn’t do anything wrong. Or, maybe it was my fault but I go overboard with sorrow and spend the whole week depressed. I tend to do this when the impacted parties are people I care about–because I care about their feelings and I don’t want to hurt them. But I could see myself going the other way if I was interacting with people I didn’t like or who I didn’t really know.

I live in terror of getting in trouble. In school, I’d burst into tears at the first sign that teacher was unhappy with me–even well into high school. As an adult, my worse fear is getting fired from work. Not getting laid off, but getting fired. Whenever my boss calls me into his office, I just know I’m about to be handed a pink slip. It seems like this is going to be a life-long phobia for me, as I’ve had it ever since I’ve started working (and it doesn’t matter that I’ve never been fired).

When I have time to calm myself down after making a big mistake, I usually have enough sense to confess to it, knowing it will be found out eventually anyway. But I could see myself getting caught by surprise and immediately seizing upon a “I DIDN’T DO IT!!” response, just out of sheer terror.

This was the culture at the job I just left.

I am the type of person who will admit my mistakes, I always thought it made me seem like an honest and trustworthy person so when I got blamed for something I didn’t so people would believe me.

Last job, no one admitted to their mistakes, so when I did people just saw me as a screw up and a scapegoat. Once I had admitted to one mistake, people just kept piling wrong doing onto me–and I was guilty until proven innocent. I got reprimanded for a number of things that I had no fault in, but couldn’t prove it wasn’t my fault. I could easily see going to the dark side and never owning my mistakes in an environment like that–thank chance and reason I got out.

I do it all the time. The problem is that most people see it as an opening of weakness and start moving in for the kill. They put tons of unrelated frustration behind their assault when they see you backing down. I think that’s why people are so afraid to admit error.

Like I said, I totally understand the reason that the paper states “This is a complete and total settlement, by taking this check you agree not to come back for anything else, etc”. That’s fine with me, they are taking care of the bills and damages, I’m not about to show up next week looking for more money and I’m cool signing a statement to that effect.

What irks me is they want me to sign an agreement that this is a “doubtful and disputed claim” and that the driver “expressly denies liability”. There is nothing doubtful or disputed about what happened; if there is I’d love to see it (they have not disagreed with anything in my sworn statement or the police report, AFAIK). The driver expressly admitted it was her fault and was apologizing at the scene, and that was the right thing to do, ethically. If she is suddenly changing her tune about whose fault the accident was I’d be fascinated to hear who she thinks was at fault. It sure wasn’t me, and it sure wasn’t the guy behind me. Again I want to stress that this is only an ethical issue for me, not a legal/financial one. I’m going to check with a lawyer but I am sorely tempted to strike that part of the statement out, while leaving the bit about absolving them of any further liability. They’ll be covered financially and I won’t be agreeing to something that I feel is utter BS.

It depends who I’m talking to, I’m happy to admit errors to people I trust.

My take on those who don’t admit to doing something wrong is that it’s a mix of reasons, depending on the situation. Fear of punishment, previously mentioned, is one reason, but so too is the concerns about “losing face”. Any lie can be told, any wrong-doing swept under the carpet, any apology left unsaid, all so that the one in the wrong doesn’t look bad in public. To me, those who front up and are honest and ethical in their dealings with people have honour. Those who fudge stuff so anyone else looks bad instead of them have lost their honour way down the track.