It pays to give up being right

How might our relationships be different, if we gave up “being right” and sought instead to understand and connect? I think the impact is potentially profound – on a personal and a global level.

Something to think about

Attachment to being right creates suffering. When you have a choice to be right or to be kind, choose kind and watch your suffering disappear.
                                                                                                      — Wayne W. Dyer

Recipe for disaster

When either person in a relationship has to be right, it spells trouble for the relationship. Yet it seems to be a very human tendency to want to be right. Even though it can cost us love and connection, we human beings often opt for being right over being in relationship.

I caught myself acting out this very thing just the other night:

As we finished eating dinner, my husband and I were discussing something he’d read in the newspaper. I can’t remember the specific topic of conversation (which is rather telling in itself) however I do remember how I felt. One moment we were having an exchange of ideas and then before I quite knew what happened, I was heatedly challenging his viewpoint.

The first red flag was when I noticed that I was feeling very indignant and very “right” about my indignation. The second red flag was when my husband made a very reasonable and convincing point, and I didn’t want to acknowledge that perhaps he had a valid perspective. I didn’t want to give up my right-ness!

So for a little while longer I blundered on with my argument, all the while knowing that I was not quite so “right “ as I was maintaining. Eventually I gave it up. I acknowledged that perhaps he had a good point and it wasn’t quite so black and white as I’d been arguing. The tension between us broke and I realized that I really didn’t care all that much about the topic – however once I’d climbed onto my righteous high horse, it was difficult to climb off. Can you relate?

Addicted to being right

According to Judith Glaser, the author of the book Conversational Intelligence, “human beings actually have a high addiction to being right”. Neuroscience has now revealed that when we persuade others that we are right, our dopamine level goes up. Dopamine is part of the brains’ reward centre and it produces a natural high. Dopamine is also at play in other addictions, like gambling. No wonder we like to win in conversation! However the price can be high. Says Glaser “Winning a point makes us feel good – it makes others feel bad, but we often don’t realize that.”

This attachment to being right creates a major blind spot in our communications. When we are attached to our own point of view, we are unable to connect with another’s perspective or realize how differently they may see the world. Our ability to understand or empathize is greatly impaired, which can be so detrimental and even destructive to our personal relationships. And it doesn’t stop at home. The person at work who always needs to be right can stifle team trust, collaboration and creativity – all of which hurts the bottom line and makes for unhappy coworkers.

The reluctance to give it up

When we release the need to be right, then it’s possible to hear how another person sees and experiences the world. Yet often we are reluctant to do so. It strikes me that we have some erroneous fears about what it means to give up being right. For example:

  • If I give up being right, then it means that I’m wrong and you’ve won.
  • If I give up being right, then I have to submit or acquiesce to you.
  • If I give up being right, then I’ve given you all my power.
  • If I give up being right, you will dominate me.
  • If I give up being right, I might look stupid.

In actuality, giving up being right doesn’t have to mean any of those things. The willingness to let go of being right could actually mean:

  • I have the personal power to hear and include your perspective.
  • I have the strength to relinquish my rigid position.
  • I am curious about what you think and feel.
  • I acknowledge that your experience and viewpoint may be different from mine.
  • Even if I don’t agree with you, I want to understand how and why you see things the way you do.
  • I am open to being changed through listening to your experience.

It’s worth the risk

Taking a more open approach is not necessarily easy. As mentioned earlier, there are often internal fears at play when we hold rigidly to a position and defend against any other perspective. We will have to face those fears, which requires self-honesty.

If we can do that – if we can courageously loosen our hold on having to be right and instead seek to understand the experience of the other — we can broaden our mind AND increase our connection. Otherwise we may remain locked in conflict and imprisoned in our own limited perspective. No new possibilities can emerge with a fixed mindset. So choose the path of curiosity and connection instead — and experience the transformative potential of authentic sharing with another.

Invitation to action

The next time you find yourself digging your heels in, with the certainty that you are right, I invite you to pause, take a breath and trade your certainty for a willingness to listen. Get curious about the other person’s viewpoint and how they came to see it that way. Put your focus on listening and understanding, as opposed to convincing and winning. You may be surprised by what you learn and what a sense of connection it produces.

If you’d like a little more on today’s topic, I recommend these two articles: 5 Things Much More Important than Being Right and The High Cost of Always Being ‘Right’.

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