Blog by Tracy Stock, CSP
What do you think of people who are wrong? Common responses are ignorant, lazy, uneducated. And we are taught at a very young age that the way to succeed in life is to never make mistakes…or at least, make as few of them as possible. After all, getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us. And today, many of us will do anything to avoid being wrong. But what if we’re wrong about all that?
Think about the last time you were wrong. Perhaps it was today, yesterday, last week, or last month. Consider how you felt emotionally to feel wrong. Did it feel embarrassing, dreadful, painful? Most of you will say, “Yes, the feeling was similar.” Yet, if you answered “yes” to that question, you were wrong. Being wrong doesn’t feel like anything because you don’t know it yet; however, when you realize you’re wrong, that’s when it hurts.
Last week, I purchased a new vehicle and agreed to trade in my current one. Because it wasn’t in stock, the salesperson had to drive to another dealership to pick it up, five hours away round trip. After it went through inspection and the keys were exchanged, I knew I had made a mistake immediately when I drove off the lot. Did the car not feel right or was it that I didn’t feel right about the purchase? I told myself that the car didn’t feel right; yet I came to realize later that there was nothing wrong with the car—I had buyer’s remorse. The dealership was amazingly understanding…and after being unsuccessful in trying to place me in a different model, they instead changed plates back and handed me the keys to my original vehicle. I even received a pleasant email from the salesperson the next day commenting that he wished we could have achieved a positive outcome for me. I assured him he most certainly did! And guess who I will ask for if/when I decide to purchase that brand of vehicle again? I can guarantee you it will be him.
In contrast to understanding an error though, knowing you are right often times leads to feeling smart, responsible, safe and even happy. It means that your position, belief, or assumption perfectly fit reality. But to aim to always be right is not rational behavior.
We also like to think that we reach conclusions by reviewing facts, weighing evidence and analyzing arguments. But this is not how human beings usually operate—particularly when decisions are important or need to be made quickly. We usually arrive at a conclusion independent of conscious reasoning that fits are existing worldview and doesn’t require us to change a pleasant or familiar narrative. And only if it’s required, we will search for reasons to defend why we are right—like if a newly purchased car is returnable because it just doesn’t feel right.
Rather than staunchly preserving our stance when it appears that we may be wrong, it’s important to realize that the capacity for us to screw up isn’t an embarrassing defect; it is fundamental to who we are. Rather than driving why your point is right and the other one is wrong, try entertaining that your conclusion may not be potentially accurate—likely keeping emotions from escalating and relationships becoming damaged because of a commitment to rightness. Instead, find joy in realizing you aren’t perfect; you made a mistake; you’re wrong; but fixing or admitting to the wrong makes you less wrong than before.
Striving to be less wrong—rather than more right—could also be a beneficial way to better understand yourself in multiple contexts, whether it’s a marital argument or a business decision. I may be wrong about who vacuumed the house last week, or about which vendor to partner with; yet if I begin from the assumption that I’m fallible and striving to be less wrong, a challenge or potential mistake may not feel so threatening.
I encourage you to transform your thoughts about being wrong. Instead, view mistakes as learning opportunities. After all, when do you learn most…when things go great or things crumble? I can assure you that I truly learn when I’m wrong and standing in the rubble of defeat. The first key point here is to learn from mistakes and work hard to not repeat them. A second, and more important key point though, is before you commit to saying you’re right, question your own positions and judgments; test yourself by examining your beliefs and recognizing rationalization when you engage in it. And the easiest way to accomplish this second point is to break out of your warm, comfortable cocoon of safety and consider saying, “Maybe I’m wrong.”