How to increase your mistake tolerance

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Don’t avoid mistakes, acknowledge them

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” ― George Bernard Shaw

The worst thing we can do with mistakes is to avoid them. Life is trial and error. We cannot make progress without making mistakes.

Archie Cochrane understood this as well as anybody.

The Scottish doctor wanted to test out where was the best place for patients to recover from heart attacks. Should they recover in a specialized cardiac unit in the hospital? Or should they recover at home?

Of course, the doctors in the cardiac unit tried to shut his experiment down. But, Archie continued until he collected some preliminary results.

“I was wrong, and you are right,” Dr. Cochrane surprised his colleagues, “It is dangerous for patients to recover from heart attacks at home. They should be in a hospital.”

His words caused an uproar. The doctors demanded that he shut the experiment at once. And accused Cochrane of killing patients.

Archie waited until everyone calmed down.

And then he revealed a secret. He had swapped the table of results. It turned out that hospitals were killing people. Patients should recover at home.

“Would you like to close down the trial now? Or should we wait until we have robust results?” Cochrane added as everyone looked at him in silence.

The father of evidence-based medicine understood the power of trial and error. But he also knew that most of us are mistake intolerant. We don’t like to admit being wrong.

That’s why Archie challenged his colleague’s fallibility. Learning through trial and error is not just about trying new things. We must first recognize our faults.

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An article with colorful quotes and interesting information starts with a great interview. Interviews are a crucial part of writing a fascinating article, but trying to get an interviewee’s thoughts, opinions, and feelings can sometimes be a challenge. A well-conducted interview can lead to more than a collection of facts that can be obtained elsewhere. It can provide valuable insight and engaging quotes.

Learn the steps to preparing for an interview and how to get the most out of it through these free resources provided by MTI:

Other excellent resources on interviewing include:

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By Kandi Wiens and Annie McKee, Harvard Business Review

Stress and burnout are not the same thing. And while we know that stress often leads to burnout, it’s possible to handle the onslaught of long hours, high pressure, and work crises in a way that safeguards you from the emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a lack of confidence in one’s abilities that characterizes burnout. The key is tapping into your emotional intelligence.

This is what one of us (Kandi) discovered in a recent study (“Leading Through Burnout”) where we assessed 35 chief medical officers (CMOs) at 35 large hospitals for their level of stress and tried to determine what, if anything, they do to deal with burnout. The findings surprised us: despite the fact that an overwhelming 69 percent of the CMOs described their current stress level as severe, very severe, or worst possible, the majority were not burned out according to the Maslach Burnout Inventory. In our interviews with these CMOs, we found a common theme to what kept their stress under control: emotional intelligence.

As one of us (Annie) has written about before, research suggests that emotional intelligence (EI) supports superior coping abilities and helps people deal with chronic stress and prevent burnout.

Emotional self-awareness, one of the components of EI, for example, allows us to understand the sources of our frustration or anxiety and improves our ability to consider different responses. Self-management, another EI competency, allows us to stay calm, control impulses, and act appropriately when faced with stress. Conflict management skills allow us to channel our anxiety and emotions into problem-solving mode rather than allowing the situation to bother us—or keep us up all night. Empathy also helps to fight stress. When we actively try to understand others, we often begin to care about them. Compassion, as with other positive emotions, can counter the physiological effects of stress. And, attuning to other people’s perspectives, attitudes, and beliefs contributes to our ability to gain trust and influence others. This, on a very practical level, often means we get the help we need before stress spirals into burnout.

What You Can Do to Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout

People do all kinds of destructive things to deal with stress—they overeat, abuse drugs and alcohol, and push harder rather than slowing down. What we learned from our study of chief medical officers is that people can leverage their emotional intelligence to deal with stress and ward off burnout. You, too, might want to try the following:

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Watch our free on-demand webinar about “Preventing Burnout”

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During a discussion at the Magazine Training International editing course in 2018 in Nairobi, the participants shared their thoughts on whether articles should be edited in classic Swahili (such as would be found in textbooks), or whether slang should be allowed in magazines.

The instructors for the course didn’t weigh in on which version of Swahili to use, rather, we agreed that it all depends on the expectations of the audience. And this discussion applies to any language, not just Swahili.

The key to magazine publication is focusing energy on reaching a particular audience. So, a magazine in Swahili for teens might include language that is accessible to teens and have words and expressions that would sound normal in the school lunchroom. However, a magazine that is focused on Christian leaders will have different word choices and communication standards, acceptable to their audience.

With the focus on magazine audience, there isn’t a right or wrong answer on word choice and phrases, but rather an ear for what the reader expects and considers correct and meaningful.

Also, it is helpful for the magazine team to define the language standards that they will use, and even give examples in a communication standards document. This documentation is important for both the writers and the editors, so there is consistency in language use. Otherwise, the team might go through unnecessary revisions, as one editor “corrects” phrases away from slang, and another accepts some slang as appropriate for the audience.

Beyond formality of language, magazines will often define the educational level that they are writing for in their target audience. For example, does the average reader have a high school diploma? Or is a reading level of 8thgrade more appropriate for the audience? Or college level? Again, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this – but the complexity of sentence structure and word choice will vary depending on the target audience.

Microsoft Word software has a feature that gives the reading level for text. [Under Review, Proofing – select “Show readability statistics” – then once you review a document (and correct or ignore all errors) the readability statistics will display.] This blog shows an 11.6 grade level, close to a high school graduate.

The reason to consider language formality and structure is that you want your average magazine reader to easily connect with the articles in your magazine. Writing specifically for your reader will engage the reader and make them want to read your magazine.

By Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial

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Big mistake: I started writing without the reader in mind.

I was responding to the scandalous analogy a reviewer had made ridiculing my profession. I was incensed. Also, chagrined. I could see there was some truth to the caricatures he used, but I labored for a couple of hours, writing a rebuttal. Pride got the better of me.

Each paragraph was dedicated to showing how what the author classified as a sin was, in fact, a virtue. For example, he characterized freelance writers and editors as “a nightmare,” dismissing us as a bunch of “critics.” I wrote that I am someone who is proud to call herself a freelance writer and editor. I number plenty of freelance writers and editors among my friends. I hardly think that, either individually or together, we are nightmares. And the complaint that we are critics? Look in your own mirror. Every writer, editor, and publisher is a critic. If we did not believe that criticism has value, there would be no point to our work. Why try to persuade? Why cajole? Why encourage? Why not simply accept reality as it is, rather than write or publish anything at all? Even affirmations point to their opposite—the possibility that what was affirmed could be overlooked, denied, or rejected.

I ran out of time and had to attend to other obligations. I put the piece aside.

When I returned to what I had imagined to be an eloquent and elegant essay, I found a screed. Whom did I think I was going to reach with this piece? It wasn’t aimed at the author. It wouldn’t work as a letter to the editor. It wasn’t suitable as a stand-alone article or editorial. It was merely a rant, and a sorry one at that. Because, as I said, I wrote it in response to a provocation—but instead of taking criticism seriously, and responding with the humility a Christian should have, I dodged. I ridiculed. I exaggerated. I minimized. In short, my rejoinder was the perfect example of the sins for which I and my fellow freelancers were put on trial. It was a nightmare. I was a mere critic, carrying on with caricature and complaints, rather than offering constructive comments, counsel, and correction.

As I thought about what I had written, the Lord reminded me of a number of basics I had forgotten. Indignation is not the same thing as inspiration. Before responding to a fool, check the facts. Before showing yourself to be a fool, check your heart. Temper your tantrum and tame your tongue. Remember the reader. Remember your reputation. Remember you can revise, redraft, and rethink.

So here I am, chastened, contrite, with a cautionary word. Think carefully about your communications, and the effect you want them to have. Think about the character of your words, and their context. God has given you the ability and gifts you use to write, edit, and publish—use them well. Use them with care. And may God keep you from making the same mistake I did; may he grant us both grace when we fail, and give us passion to persevere in his service.

Kim Pettit, MTI Board of Directors chair

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Do you ever feel discouraged and overwhelmed by everything you have to do to keep your magazine going? Whether you are the only staff member or part of a large staff, encouragement to keep going and tips on how to be more efficient and productive with what time you do have are a great help.
Check out these on-demand workshops for ideas:

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Whether your team all sits next to each other in one office or you are spread around the world there are multiple tools online to help you better communicate, plan, brainstorm, file share, edit, schedule, and more. Check out these programs (some are free) to see what can help your magazine staff, writers, designers, and volunteers collaborate with efficiency. Click on each type to read about different tools in that category.

Project management




File sharing


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The headline caught my attention. A search for the publisher of a controversial pamphlet was underway. The pamphlet had an impact on a particular religious community: it convinced some parents not to vaccinate their children. Their decision became a public health concern when that community faced an outbreak of measles. I wondered if the publisher would face criminal charges, and if those might have been forestalled with a little fact-checking.

At the time I read the headline, I was ghost-writing devotionals based on a sermon. The preacher alluded to some scientific process, but he’d gotten the facts wrong. It was a minor error and easy to fix. The instructions and style guide I received from the commissioning editor did not include anything on fact-checking, but I had done it anyway.

Who is responsible?

Do you fact-check the material you receive? Or do you trust that the authors and preachers you work with get their facts right every time? How do you decide what and how much should be checked? How do you know what is “fake news” and what is a true fact? Even our language has changed to reflect our preoccupation with getting the story right.

Newsweek’s editorial guidelines place the responsibility for fact-checking squarely on the journalist’s shoulders: “You are responsible for the accuracy of your story. Check every single fact that you include: dates, spelling of names, titles, timelines, numbers, and other statistics. Hard-check any superlative—i.e., is this really the first, the worst, the only, the highest?” Other organizations present fact-checking as a shared task.

Why should we care?

In discussing a recent fact-checking scandal involving German magazine Der Spiegel, Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler concluded, “[We] all want to be told the stories we want to be told [but] the truth really matters. A story, of course, doesn’t have to be true to be interesting, but it does have to be true to be true. Christians underline and must affirm that the truth always matters. . . everywhere, anywhere, all the time.”

Fact-checking also matters because it affects our witness—as this column by a prominent atheist suggests. (A Christianity Today article comments on the research he cites here.)

How do you make sure that what you publish is true?

The Poynter Institute offers a number of resources on the topic, as does the Global Investigative Journalism Network here. The Society of Professional Journalists provides this list. There are many similar compilations on the web. There are even a few inspirational resources, such as MTI board member and trainer Dr. Michael Ray Smith’s book Fake News, Truth-Telling and Charles M. Sheldon’s Model of Accuracy: How a Clergyman Insisted on Accuracy as Job One.

I do not want to duplicate the lists, but I do want to offer my own tips for your consideration:

  • Reflect on past mistakes. Pay attention to the critiques you have received and determine what types of errors you, or your authors, are most likely to make.
  • Avoid repeating past mistakes. Develop clear guidelines for fact-checking and be sure they are communicated to all involved.
  • Maintain a list of vetted resources you recommend your staff use. Review the list as needed.
  • Trust that your fact-checking guidelines are followed, but verify this, too. There are a number of ways you might do this: asking authors to provide documentation for the facts they used, asking a third party who knows the subject to comment on a piece, performing random checks, or incorporating some fact-checking into your editing or proofreading processes. Make your double-checking system practical and easy to implement.
  • Seek information and input from voices outside your usual circles. Do not let a single search engine’s algorithms determine all you see on the web.
  • Aim for accuracy, but recognize that it is human to err. Seek improvement. Reward truth-telling in your organization, even when the truth is not pleasant or welcome.

Is it worth the effort?

I wish there were an easily measured return-on-investment figure you could attach to the task of fact-checking. Like so many other necessary and often invisible tasks, it is difficult to measure how fact-checking contributes to the bottom line. And unlike the case with the pamphlet I mentioned at the start of this article, the errors that slip past us usually don’t have life-or-death consequences. Most of the time, our errors are minor ones, and easily corrected.

No one likes to have someone else point out their mistakes. Fact-checking can be a thankless task! But when what we must do to faithfully serve God in our publications is tedious or troublesome, the Bible gives us wonderful encouragement: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). God sees our efforts—and he loves us, mistakes and all (Romans 5:8). And that is a fact we can rely on.

Kim Pettit, chair, Board of Directors, Magazine Training International

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By Ken Gosnell, CEO Experience

Employees enjoy hearing praise from their leaders, and those who are recognized are more likely to be productive and satisfied at work. According to Gallup’s research, “Only 41% of employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for and what makes it different from competitors.”

A concern that I find leaders and companies often struggle with is how to enable their employees to produce good work. Great companies produce great work. Their leaders select people who focus on making the right actions that will achieve goals and produce results.

American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard once wrote, “The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” Every day provides an opportunity to do good work. However, many people waste their days at work producing nothing of value, therefore missing out on opportunities to leave a legacy.

1. Some people think that their work is not important. 

When an employee believes this, this is an attitude of avoidance that must be redirected.

Many people get used to doing the same tasks repeatedly. They never look beyond their current reality to see the possibilities of other work they could complete. It is the employee’s responsibility to learn the “why” behind the tasks they are to accomplish.

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