High Price of Right

If like me, you were the 1st grader in the back of the class waving your hand wildly, “Teacher, teacher, I know!”… it started early. Being right is intoxicating. We love to have the answer, be the expert, be the smart one. And, it is ingrained in some of us more than others.

Now, let’s set aside anything about personal integrity, legalities or values. But, that still leaves a lot for discussion. The desire to be right has a tremendous effect on how we work with others and even how we think.

If you have any of these thoughts regularly you may be intoxicated by being right:

  • While you are talking, I’m not really listening because I have to be ready to show you that I’m right.
  • I already know the answer. It’s pretty obvious. Why don’t you get it??
  • I know my strong desire to be right is affecting our relationship, but it’s more important to me to be right. 
  • If you have a different opinion than me, I’m probably going to take it personally.
  • I’m gonna need the last word on this – so you can see I’m right. I WILL send the last email.
  • “I told you so” is as good as it gets.

If you have any of these thoughts regularly, you might be hooked on being right. I have seen this desire to be right affect so many careers. The new hire who has all of the answers from her prior company and will tell you in every conversation (and then can’t understand why she’s having a difficult start). The committee leader who won’t really involve others because no one else can do it right (and then complains he is so overworked). The consultants or business partners who can’t be that true trusted advisor, because they already have all of the answers (and then feel badly when they aren’t “at the table”).

So, what to do? This is not an easy fix. It takes time to change, like all addictions. The first step is awareness. And, the key is letting go of your addiction to being right all the time, but keeping your voice and point of view – which are so essential to being an effective leader and trusted advisor. It’s knowing when a desire to be right is out of balance and overpowering everything else. The tipping point seems to be when it’s, “I have THE ONLY right answer.”

Here are a few tips that I still work on and may help you:

  • Listen more. Understand what others care about and want.
  • Realize that your clients, partners and colleagues’ best outcomes may be different from yours.
  • Know what progress can be achieved – which may not be the perfect answer, but the best answer in this situation.
  • Recognize that you may be right, but also you may not be. Accept that your best answer might be a lot better with some input from others.
  • Never let your desire to be right overpower your relationships. Know how to agree to disagree or find common ground without emotion.
  • Build up your influencing skills (which includes listening) so when you believe that you have a great option, you won’t go it alone.
  • Lift up and get some perspective on the situation. Consider what really matters and it will help you know the importance of your “right answer.”
  • Keep focused on what will make the biggest impact and not who made the recommendation.

There have been many times when I thought I knew the absolute “right answer,” but after learning and listening more, my “right answer” changed.

As they say, the first step is knowing you have a problem. Wear a reminder on your wrist, ask your friends to give you the hand signal when your heels are digging in or know when to step back if you are too personally invested and it is affecting your judgment. And, a cautionary tale … if your desire to be right is overpowering, you may be right, but lose some partners, clients and friends along the way – a high price to pay.