Do you always need to be right?

2014

Mark Twain put his finger on the age-old problem of needing to be right when he observed, "it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain't so."

Take a moment and reflect on your relationships at work and at home and ask yourself, "how much does the 'I’m right, you’re wrong' dynamic play out in my everyday interactions?"

Most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, will find this dynamic a familiar companion in face-to-face conversations, on the phone or in emails and (especially) online. Either unconsciously or consciously, we often find ourselves in situations where we feel we need to be right. And not only do we need to be right, but to be right we need to make the other party be or feel wrong.

Our need to feel safe and secure

Our ego personality is the culprit here as it wants and needs to feel strong, safe and secure. But when the shoe is on the other foot and we experience the feeling of being wrong, our ego personality reacts to leave us feeling fearful, stupid, insecure, deficient small and/or invisible.

The deal is that someone always has to lose in this "win-lose" dynamic. And, needing to win, or experiencing being wrong, we find ourselves enmeshed in interpersonal relationships characterized by mistrust, conflict, competition, frustration, anger or sadness, all of which are based on fear.

Of course, the solution for this dynamic is not to live in a world of polarity and choosing instead a world of inclusion. That means rejecting ‘right vs. wrong’ and ‘either/or’ in favour of ‘both/and’.

The challenge for our ego is how to relate to others in a way that lets us transcend the personal win-lose dynamic and focus on commonalities. In the world of the ego, it’s all about being separate and independent, "me vs. you". In the world of commonality, community and inclusion, it’s all about "you and me". It's win-win. It's about "we."

The difficulty this poses for many of us begs some fundamental questions:

"What excuse am I using to rationalize and justify a win-lose, me vs. you dynamic that creates disconnection and disaffection?"

"Why can’t I feel content about being right about something without needing to make someone else feel or be wrong?"

"Why do I live from an 'I’d rather be right than happy' perspective much of the time?"

Separation

Some Questions for Self-Reflection

  • What will happen if I let go of my need to be right?
  • What won’t happen if I let go of my need to be right?
  • What will happen if I don’t let go of my need to be right?
  • What won’t happen if I don’t let go of my need to be right?
  • What is threatening to me about not being right?
  • Do I feel enslaved by a need to be right? If so, how does this feeling affect me?
  • How do I feel when I am "wrong?" Why do I feel this way?
  • What was it like to be "right" and "wrong" when I was growing up? How does this dynamic play out now in my adult life - at work, at home and at play?
  • Would I rather be right than happy? Honestly.

The truth is that while we are innately heart-felt, spiritual beings, we are also human and possess egos. Somewhere along the path of our growth, we separated from the heart-felt and interconnected aspects of our being-ness and began to focus on being separate from one another, in other words, on the human and ego aspects of our personalities. In our early development, we were indoctrinated with beliefs, assumptions, expectations, perceptions and world views that we identified with and took on to be "me."

As a result, we live in a world of folks who have assorted beliefs and opinions. That's as it should be. But when we live life from an ego-directed place, then it becomes "all about me". In order to feel safe and secure, our initial reaction to someone else's different beliefs or opinions is fear - a fear of losing "me", a fear that "me" is being threatened. So we conduct our relationships based on our need to be right because being right means that I can be "me". That’s why not being "me" (feeling I am "wrong") is a very threatening proposition for many people.

When we're able to let go of our need to be right, we can start to live in a way that encourages inner peace, well-being, harmony and connectivity and to create more conscious, honest, trusting, ‘win-win’ relationships.

So as you move through your day, try to take the time to observe your underlying motivations when you find yourself engaged in win-lose conversations. Do you need to "win" for selfish, manipulative or fearful reasons? And what is your intention when engaged in win-lose interactions? Why?

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.

Older Comments

This is a viewpoint that seems to get lost in the development of employees and managers/supervisors/leadership team members. I would print this and somehow incorporate into HR training and development (if you have not already done so).

One small point: the article should have been proof-read before it was published. Ouch - it hurts to read some of these sentences!

Bill Honolulu

It's not a 'need' to be right. It's just what is. If i say 'hey guys, make sure you're this item is being made x,y,z. ', and they respond, well, that's not how it's supposed to be'. and then i say 'yeah, i'm pretty sure it is'. ('pretty sure?? no, i'm POSTIVE). but they continue to doubt me. so what choice do i have than to drag out the procedure book, and show them? why should *I* have to be looked upon as the dumb one when they are the ones dong it wrong? why do *I* have to coddle their ego into believing they're doing it the right way when they are not? furthermore, when it comes down to MY reputation as a leader, and whether or not my people are doing things correctly, am i supposed to let them keep on doing it any damn way they please and have ME take the fall for it later?? i think not. If i am right? and I am challenged?? damn straight i will defend it to the grave. if i am wrong, i will admit to that as well.

T.P. florida

I agree with both... and parts of this authors perspective as well. I realize that a part of me wants/needs to be right and sometimes being right can and does bring with it some unhappiness due to another individual(s) view or belief. At some point, it can damage a relationship... but I have my needs and if I do not speak my mind about that, then I will be living in quite misery internalizing that energy that needs to be spoken or made known. My current situation is with my boyfriend, who is the sweetest, kindest man.... The problem is, he is uneducated and codependent... so there is more to the 'problem'. I have never been in a relationship with a codependent nor have I ever had the need to be 'right' in any relationship before. Other, healthier relationships ones concerning serenity, happiness etc. include times when my children did it 'their' way, and in letting go of MY need, I was able to see their perspective and found value in 'doing it different' which was refreshing and a nice change.

Tia

I do agree that you do not have to always be right, but in the same sense I feel that to have someone always put you down so that they are always right is not right. A friend of mine will not take any advise, direction, or ideas from another person unless they are a man. I can say something to this person (female) and she will act as if I'm stupid and I don't know what I'm talking about. I have repeatedly let it go until I here her say that some man told her to do it this way and it is the same thing I stated three or four days ago. It just irks me to know end. This person is always stating how 'I know, I'm the one who talked to them or I read it or I've been dealing with this for this long', each time I offer my advise and immediately the defense comes on about your wrong, I'm right. After so long of dealing with this and letting it go, I explode on it. I've tried doing both ways where I keep pushing how I'm right and I know it and it goes to the same scenario of an argument. For one that person is so insecure with what is right in their world, they never want someone to say they are wrong or even suggest another option for fear they are wrong. It doesn't matter how you deal with this type of person they will never back down. I've let it go before and then later when they've realized their wrong and told me, it is like haha I don't know what I was thinking and they make it a joke almost. I've even had this person (family member) call me every dirty name in the book from just speaking my mind on the subject at hand because they are so ticked off about a difference of opinion. I've debated on completely erasing them from my life because they are toxic and it will never change but how do you do that when it is your sister? Done it repeatedly but she will always call and act as if nothing happened. She always blames me for the argument even though she is the one that goes balistic on the phone or in person. The last time I sat with the phone on speaker allowing someone to hear her and I kept saying remember this tomorrow when you call and tell me how I'm the one who went off the deepend while you remained calm. This time she took a month to call back and once again acted as if nothing happened and it was because I called her out on it and she had to let it cool down.

Shelley