Why Being Right Can Be So Wrong

You're wrong, right?

Have you ever noticed that you’re always right?

You probably don’t believe that everything you think and say is the final, capital-T TRUTH—not at a conscious level, anyway. But like me, you probably tend to act that way.

That’s because each of us defines for ourselves what’s true and what’s untrue. We grow attached to a body of beliefs, which means that we resist new ideas. We tolerate other people’s opinions to the extent that they match our own. Beyond that, we unconsciously tune out.

When choosing friends, we gravitate toward people who agree with us. When encountering a new idea, we argue against it. We look for ways to make people wrong. When seeking feedback or solving a problem, we search out the people who reinforce us. We’d rather get validated than get challenged.

In other words, we’re always “right.”

The costs of being “right”

Being right all the time comes with costs that we seldom notice:

Creativity stops. New ideas are like infants. They are powerless. They need protection. If they’re not cared for, they can die. Millions of them actually have died—killed by committee, murdered by people who were “right.” And when our viewpoint is the only one we value, we miss out on the cognitive diversity that is crucial for innovation.

Learning stops. There’s a saying: Beware of the person with 30 years of experience—1 year of learning and 29 years of repetition. Learning by its very nature takes us into new intellectual territory. Our assumptions might get challenged. Our opinions might get questioned. We might be asked to mingle with people we dislike, to do things that we avoid, and to change our behavior. None of these is possible when we resist new experiences and retreat to being “right.”

If you assume that you have nothing to learn from other people, then you’ll fail to leverage the brainpower around you. You’ll miss out on coaching that could help you create new outcomes. You’ll dismiss people who could serve as mentors. You’ll keep doing what you’ve always done, getting the same results you’ve always gotten.

Relationships suffer. Who likes to hang with people who are always “right”? These people send out an unspoken message: Think my way or hit the highway. When faced with that ultimatum, most of us will look for the nearest exit ramp. Being “right” can also mean being lonely.

Recognize these signs of “rightness”

Paying attention to your “rightness” can be like paying attention to your posture. When you notice that you’re slumping in your chair, you instinctively straighten up. The simple act of self-observation changes your behavior. In a similar way, noticing your “rightness” can neutralize it. You can even make a mental note: Here I am being right again.

Here are a few signs that you might be resisting new ideas and different perspectives:

  • Interrupting other people.
  • Making comments such as “No, that’s wrong” or “I don’t agree at all.”
  • Frowning, rolling your eyes or refusing to make eye contact with a person who’s speaking to you.
  • Immediately countering an idea with your own viewpoint rather than really listening to it.
  • Following up on an argument by sending an angry email to defend your point of view.

Giving up “rightness” takes intention and practice but it comes with surprising rewards. You get new ideas. You get to relax and ask questions instead of trying to control the conversation. You get to step inside the minds and hearts of other people and see the world through their eyes.

When you’re listening to discover rather than trying to score debating points, you realize how much you can learn, especially once you get to that place where you find the unexpected connections between ideas.

Most of all, you get to learn and enjoy better relationships.

The key is to value others’ thinking. It completes yours. And even when you are right, don’t be “right” about it.

 

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