Being Right is Vastly Overrated: Part II

In yesterday’s post, Being Right is Vastly Overrated: Part I, I talked about the folly of trying to be right in business.

And wouldn’t you know it–the same rule seems to apply in our personal lives. But with some interesting twists about how humans relate to each other.

Being Right is Doubly Seductive

In business, I suggested yesterday, we are taught from our early days that the goal is to win and succeed, and that you generally do so by being right, or at least more right than the other guy.

In life, it’s the same–only different. We are attracted to those who are right. They are the successful ones, it seems, particularly early in life; they are the ones winning the social battles of ‘rightness.’ They are the ‘smart’ ones. They get the good grades, the good jobs. Being right really is seductive.

But Being Right Backfires in Personal Relationships

Just as in business, however, something goes awry when we bring our supposed life lessons back home with us. How many people marry the person they thought was ‘right’—academically, athletically, socially—only to find out that the passion to be right can be the worst form of obnoxious.

The desire to be right—on the surface so valuable outside relationships—turns toxic within them. How many of you—well, let’s just say, how many of you have a friend—a friend whose spouse just has to be right? All the time.

It doesn’t have to be a shout-down. There are ways to get a spouse’s goat while convincing everyone, particularly including yourself, that you’re doing no such thing. You’re just trying to make a point, see? You’re just trying to make sure your particular angle on the subject is understood. You’re just trying to carry on a stimulating conversation, there’s no need to get all huffy about it, it’s not personal, and you know that, right?

Where Does the Desire to Be Right Come From?

When I was a kid, I heard adults say that bullies were just afraid themselves and were acting out of bravado. It made no sense to me at the time; they sure didn’t look afraid to me.

But with age comes perspective. And now I believe it. People who act badly—I learned this from Phil McGee—are almost always fighting a fear. Find out what that fear is, and you’re likely at the heart of the issue.

The insistence on being right—on winning arguments with one’s spouse, one’s kids, one’s friends—almost always derives from an insecurity, a fear that those other people are in fact disrespecting us. A fear that they do not, in fact, think we are right. 

And lurking even beneath that, there is a fear that we ourselves, might in truth, Not. Be. All. That. Right.   And so we fight to deny giving those thoughts consciousness.

Worse yet: in our better moments, we can see our desire to be right as a mask for our insecurities. We even say, with fake humility, as if it were an excuse, “well, I do suffer from low self-esteem.” But that’s not how others see it.

Others see it as self-obsessed, narcissistic, immature, hurtful on occasion, insensitive, rude, and above all, no fun to be with. 

And so we’re full circle. Just as in business, the desire to be right results in exactly the opposite of what was intended. It drives away the very people whose respect and companionship we wanted. And it does so for the same reasons we talked about yesterday.

Being right is all about me. But you like me better when I make it all about you. And ironically, if I’m all about you, you’re more likely to be all about me. That way we each end up getting what we wanted–but in a far more delicious way.

The antidote? Get over yourself. There is a god, and you’re not it.  Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. What you get back is roughly equal to what you put out. To be trusted, try trusting.  Treat words like dessert cookies; leave the last one for your partner.

Dare to be you; everyone else is taken anyway.  

5 replies
  1. Mark Slatin
    Mark Slatin says:

    This will be hard to read for those of us who are wired to be right all the time.   Tough, but necessary medicine. 

    Philosophical and practical at the same time.

     

     

    Reply
  2. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:

    Charlie:

    Great post with some great lines; I’m taking to heart the line about humility.  Thank you!

    And I’ll throw in one of my own:  "Being (b)right is also vastly overrated."

    PS: Love the eggs!

     
    Reply
  3. Lance E. Osborne
    Lance E. Osborne says:

    Charlie, thanks for this. I shared it with my two teenage daughters and my wife. I’m sure that to one degree or another, all families could use a little more of this antidote. As can the professional families that make up business teams.

     
    I once inherited an employee—a highly intelligent and hard working young man—who was a curmudgeon, an intellectual bully in dealing with his colleagues. He was also quite resistant to any input or guidance from his new manager…me.
     
    On his desk, he had photos of his wife and daughter. From the photos and the other grade-school artwork that decorated his cube, one could tell that he cared deeply for his daughter. For his next review I decided to change my tact. I talked about both his strengths and the challenges with his peers. He tensed up and flew into defensive mode. Then I asked him about his daughter. I asked if he had ever said something to her that upset her—perhaps even made her cry—in a situation where he knew he was right. I asked if being right was always important enough to merit upsetting his little girl.
     
    He started to tear up at my desk, and then he sighed and relaxed as if an epiphany had also just lifted a heavy burden. From that point forward, our relationship was completely different; as was his demeanor with his colleagues. The change didn’t come overnight, but regularly improved. We are still friends and remain in touch to this day. The “Being Right” antidote works at home and in the office.
     
    Cheers,
    LEO
    Reply

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  1. […] issue usually isn’t whether or not you’re right; it’s whether or not you’re insisting on being right too soon. Don’t mistake “What should I do?” for an actual question. Sometimes it’s simply an […]

  2. […] out why being right is vastly over-rated, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or learn more about the dynamics of influence in […]

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