Problem #1: You are right and he/she (your husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, friend, teacher, student or anyone you are in relationship with) is wrong.
It sounds like this to others:
“I know what I’m talking about.” “The way I see the world is the way it actually is.”
“However the way you see the world is impractical, absurd, ridiculous, idiotic, unreasonable, irrational, crazy and/or illogical.”
What other people hear is:
“My perspectives, beliefs and opinions are right and your perspectives, beliefs and opinions are wrong. I am the holder of the truth.”
In other words, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
It feels like this:
“I’m going to shame you and make you feel stupid for seeing things the way you do. How could anyone who is smart, confident, successful, a winner, empathic, good at what they do, a thinking person, a caring person, a good teacher, architect, mother, father, sister, brother, CEO, (fill in the blank) think the way you do or say something like that?
This is what they’re not telling you:
“When I was growing up I was criticized for things I said or did and that made me feel stupid, like a failure and ashamed. On a subconscious level now I always have to be right so I can be sure that I won’t be criticized or feel stupid or that I have failed. If you don’t agree with me, that means that one of us has to be wrong. Because I always have to be right, I vote for you. You must be wrong. And I’m going to do to you what I hated being done to me, which is that I’m going to criticize you or put you down for being wrong and make you feel small.”
Others see the world through different eyes than you based on their experiences, history, family life, personality, values, intelligence (of which there are many kinds) and gender.
And those different eyes lead to different perceptions and perspectives about the world which lead to different beliefs about life, people and situations. In many situations, there is not just one truth. Our differences is what makes life exciting and fascinating. And takes us out of our comfort zone.
I believe that there is another reason that we have to be right. Our brain is programmed for survival. To be wrong is to risk being dead. Our brain cannot allow us to be wrong because it taps into our deepest fears of not being capable of surviving. And that really scares us.
Most of us would rather be right than happy. Right than loving. Right than connected. Right than kind (not to be confused with nice).
And when we make people wrong, what happens? They get defensive. Or shut down. They share less and aren’t as willing to be vulnerable. Who wants to get up close and personal with someone who criticizes us, puts us down and thinks we’re less than? Over time, intimacy and connection are sacrificed at the altar of rightness (aka “the truth”).
I don’t believe that most of us consciously or maliciously try to make other people wrong. And that’s the problem. We do it subconsciously so it’s critical to wake up and become aware of how we treat others. Only then can we choose to change it.
Clients are always telling me that they want to improve their communication with the important people in their lives. Start here. It’s not about either-or. Either I’m right or you’re right. It’s about both-and. Both you and I have a perspective and a) in most circumstances both are likely valid and b) does it really matter who is right?
When people tell me that they want to learn to communicate better, I often think that what they mean is that they want to become better at persuading others of the truth of their perspective. What I suggest is that they become better at listening. Remember we were given two ears but only one mouth…
The next time you disagree with someone about something, what would it be like to really listen to their perspective and think about the issue from their point of view? To not make them wrong? Even if you think that their perspective or opinion is ridiculous or silly or unbelievable or childish? What would it be like to discuss it or just say something like “I see it differently” instead of “No, this is the way it is”?
What is coming up for you now when I make these suggestions? Whatever it is will give you more information about what pushes your need to be right. Follow those clues.
What would happen if you risked real communication, more intimacy and connection? Spend the next couple of weeks becoming aware of how often you need to be right. Then ask yourself what you really want in your relationships. Being right or truly connecting? You just might be in for a surprise.
Problem #2? We’ll talk about that next time. (C’mon, you didn’t expect me to share it all with you right now, did you? Don’t you have your hands full just becoming aware of when, how and with whom your need to be right rears its self-right-eous head?)