What goes wrong when you’re always right

March 11, 2015

Stuck Moment: His strategy is wrong, I just know it. But when I explain it to him, he doesn’t seem to want to hear it  — no matter how much I insist. I don’t understand why people won’t listen for their own good. It’s not my fault if I’m right.

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Seeing things that others don’t can put us in an awkward place. We want — or need — to prove our point, and yet somehow this makes us the bad guy. And that just doesn’t compute: Being right = good, not bad, right?

Not always.

Yes, contribute to the conversation, but be mindful of how. We humans, after all, can be a prickly lot. And one red-hot button is when someone regularly tells us we’re wrong. We start to feel devalued. Perhaps unworthy. Definitely annoyed.

The consequence of being that righty-pants, no matter how good your intention, is that it can seriously narrow your relationships. And that narrows your opportunities — leaving you feeling (wrongly) left out in the cold.

Let’s take a look at some different reasons for rightness-overdrive and how to scale it back so your life stays full.

Reasons vary about why it’s important that we’re seen as being right. Recognizing your motivation will help build awareness of when you might be taking it a bit too far.

Right to succeed
Success is its own reward, giving you license to make sure you achieve it. Your insistence can payoff in concrete matters (“This is the right way to reconcile a balance sheet”), but in areas of creative problem-solving or dealing with change, your-way-or-the-highway starts to limit effectiveness.

Right to be loved
Love is probably all you need for happiness, but your strategy of obtaining it can produce the opposite effect. If people admire your knowledge and experience and know-how, you reason, you will endear yourself in some way. But proving your point can result in lengthy monologues, frequent interruptions, or shooting down ideas to elevate your own. Ouch.

Right to share
No doubt, you know a lot. Acquiring knowledge is one of your favorite things, as is spreading that wealth. If someone’s orchid is dying, you volunteer 20 ways to make it bloom again. When the TV show Empire comes up, it’s your chance to explain all the King Lear references. Trouble is, you can get so caught up in the topic that you don’t pay attention to your audience’s thoughts or interest level.

Right to be comfortable
There’s no such thing as comfortable silence, which means you talk through all the quiet moments in your quest for relief. Topic is not the issue. You could just as easily launch into the proper way to clean a garage as you do the downside of the new tax code, filling the emptiness — and then some.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with being right — that is, until your rightness starts to shrink rather than expand your world.

Relationships are the most apparent side effect. If you’re puzzled about why your social circle is smaller, you may be alienating others without realizing it. And a side effect of that may be fewer opportunities coming your way.

Harder to spot is how you’re closing off inspiration, exploration, and flexibility. Always being right doesn’t leave room for different opinions and fresh information. The mind starts to get rigid. New ideas begin to feel like a threat instead of an option.

Though it sounds counterintuitive, being wrong once in a while can actually improve your life. At Unstuck, we believe that:

1. Humbleness counts. You earn respect when you admit you made a mistake or acknowledge what you don’t know. It shows your human side and makes you more likable. It also shows confidence and openness.
How to practice this: When in a group, validate someone else’s opinion over yours — and mean it. Say it out loud, and notice how people respond positively to your contribution, and to you. Repetition of this will build your reputation of generosity and thoughtfulness.

2. Answers are multi-sided. Often, there’s more than one solution to a problem. Believing this allows you to consider other approaches and opinions.
How to practice this: Come up with at least two answers to a problem and share them both to get reactions. How does it feel to be both right and not-so-right at the same time? Is there an opportunity to collaborate instead of dictate?

3. Empathy opens doors. Listening to different points of view can expose you to new ideas and paths for exploration and growth.
How to practice this: Instead of tearing down someone else’s idea, ask yourself, What if this is true? What is the opportunity here? What would need to change? What does this make me want to learn about? The answers will get even richer if you solicit thoughts from one or two other people.

Next: Are you staying busy to avoid yourself?
Previous: You’re overwhelmed — so why won’t you ask for help?

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