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How Important Is It To Be Right?

September 27, 2010

How Important Is It To Be Right?

I was in a meeting in which both important and trivial issues were being debated. Most of the people in the room had known each other for years and were either friends or good acquaintances. However, the discussion became contentious. Several participants let their passion and desire to “be right” on the issues trump their values and jeopardize their relationships.

Their behavior brought to mind this story I adapted from the “CLAL at Work Archive” for a workshop I designed on Breakthrough Interactions:

When I was a kid, there was a cave-like space hidden behind some big shrubs on the hillside behind my house. My friends and I called it “the fort” and we would meet there. We beat sticks on the dirt floor. We argued ruthlessly about who was right and who was wrong, who was smart and who was not, and who was to blame.  And we tried to figure out what we stood for and what we wanted to do.

Now, I look at people sitting around a conference table. We are all grown-ups. It’s not the same people, but it seems like the same meeting – and I’m trying to figure out how to make it civil.

In my recent meeting, I was able to change the tone of the debate and re-focus it on resolving the problem and finding common denominators among the various positions in way that conveyed mutual respect. Part of that process involved reminding the participants of their own values and the values of the organization.

Unfortunately, many people focus simply on winning an argument or tenaciously trying to prove they are right – whether or not they are. Winning often takes precedence over adhering to espoused values, doing the right thing, solving the problem, resolving the issue, or moving beyond pre-set positions. Passion becomes more important than people. When this happens many participants stop listening and refuse to acknowledge the merit of what others are saying or to appreciate their perspective. They simply try to invalidate positions at odds with their own. In the process, they risk losing something we should all cherish – our relationships, not only with colleagues but also with those we love and who enrich our lives.

It may be difficult to hear and thoughtfully consider the opinions of others with different life experiences, interpretation of facts, assumptions, understanding of reality, or alternative ideas of what is right or best. We often are emotionally invested in our own ideas, perceptions, and needs. Even as we may believe the common axiom that perception is reality, it’s valuable to remember that others who have different perceptions may also have different realities, and those differences may be the cause of many conflicts.

Think about what can be achieved if all the energy put into arguing was devoted to accomplishing common goals. In most cases there is far more that unites us than divides us. It’s far more constructive to identify and build from our common ground and the common denominators that bring us together.

When you become embroiled in an argument or discussion, I encourage you to consider what is most important – winning the debate or finding agreeable solutions while modeling your values and cherishing the relationships.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Lee Haas permalink
    September 28, 2010 2:09 pm

    This is one of my frustrations with politics in our country at the present time. Compromising is no longer an option. Either I have the only solution or you have the only solution. Since f I am right, you must be demonized.

    • September 28, 2010 3:06 pm

      Elaine, thanks so much for your lovely words and feedback! I keep up to date on all of your wonderful activities on FB and am amazed at all you are doing.

      I’m glad you like the title. We are planning to publish it in November.

      All the best and God bless,

    • September 28, 2010 3:10 pm

      Lee, thanks so much for your comment and insight. I hope you enjoy reading the blog.

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