Have you ever noticed how tempting it is to say, “I told you so”? I think most of us have. Now, think about how much you hate hearing, “I told you so”?
I’ve come to the conclusion that needing to be right doesn’t feel right. The need to be right is programmed into the ego, and I, for one, would like to upgrade my operating system to override that feature.
Last week, the right side of my back felt like it was on fire. I mentioned it to a friend, who, in a very loving way asked me, “What are you trying to get right or where are you trying to be right?”
I was struck by how that question brought up a situation where I had been trying, unsuccessfully to “get right”. Ugh, I am guilty of wanting to be right and I am attached to many of the beliefs I have about being right.
The other day I was walking with a friend and she was talking about something that was factually inaccurate. I said, “Actually it’s the other way around.” and she said, “Oh, I know that.” It struck me that she didn’t’ want to be seen as not knowing, not smart or savvy in that topic and therefore, not wrong. Then, I kept noticing that about her. She rarely admitted when she didn’t know something and never gave anyone else credit for being right.
Having been immersed in the field of self-exploration for all-most of my life, I know that when I see a quality or characteristic in someone that I either admire or abhor, I’m holding up a mirror to myself. Somewhere, some part of that quality, characteristic or habit is true for me too.
Ahhhh, here’s another FGE (friggin growth experience). Something for me to look at: Where do I need to be right? How often? How’s my need to be right affecting my relationships?
I recognized that I needed, wanted and would talk over people or calculatingly wait for an opportunity to be right which, to my ego, meant that I got to prove my smarts, my specialness, my worth and my value. I was allowing myself to be driven by Ego.
I was so interested in this human phenomenon, the needing to be right, that my coaching colleague and podcasting pal, De and I agreed to use it as the subject for episode 6 of our upcoming podcast series, “Not Your Mother’s Advice, Pouring Wisdom Over Coffee.” The topic was: “needing to be right doesn’t feel right. Sign up here to be the first to have access to our podcast series as soon as it’s available!
It’s funny how life supports whatever you’re up to in your own curriculum; so here’s what happened…One of our regularly scheduled calls was rescheduled. “One of us got the date and time wrong”. When she didn’t call me at the newly arranged time, I gave it a few minutes and finally called her.
She said, “I tried calling you yesterday but you didn’t answer. I didn’t bother leaving a voice mail, I figured something happened and you never miss a call so you just couldn’t make it”. I was upset by her assumption that I had missed our call because I knew I was right about the rescheduled time.
However, I ended up saying, “oh I’m so sorry. I could’ve sworn we changed the time.” She said, “Well we don’t have to go back to the email chain, but its ok that you missed the call.”
By this point, I was more concerned with being right about our call time and not being seen as unreliable than I was with the podcast. That didn’t feel good. The unspoken disappointment I felt for what I perceived as being made wrong about our commitment (when I knew I was right), hung in the air like a rain cloud. I had compromised myself by apologizing because I didn’t want to appear to her as if I needed to be right about the time.
I did end up going back to the email and seeing that I was right about the new time. That fact may have made me feel better, but it didn’t clear the space between my colleague and me.
The next time you’re in conflict with a someone, look to see if it’s because one of you needs to be right.
People want to be right for a variety of reasons.
- Is it that the situation or topic of conversation is stepping on a value that one of you hold as important? In the case of my colleague above, I have a value around being reliable. When she thought I just didn’t show up for the call, I was put off by the idea that she would question my reliability.
- Is it specialness? Do you need to be right because if you weren’t right you’ll feel that the other won’t see you as valuable? I’ve realized that my own need to be right is tied to a need for approval. I want people to see me as adding value, being smart, being wise, etc.
- Is it that you’ve been hired to have all the right answers? In the workplace, we are recognized and promoted the more times we are right. We are rewarded financially for getting it right. And there is an atmosphere of competition, people vying for position and recognition, so that really stirs the pot and encourages the trying to be right behaviors.
- Is it that you have a belief system in which you’re firmly entrenched and you feel compelled to defend anything that questions that? Not being right about closely held beliefs could possibly rock and/or collapse the foundation you’ve counted on your whole life. As human beings our minds try to control our environment, and we want to ensure the outcome. So, if you have a belief about something and it is threatened in any way, that causes the part of your brain that is wired for survival to kick in and freak out. In simpler terms, not being right threatens your sense of self and certainty.
- Is it factual? Is it a pure fact that you are correct? Is it absolutely true and does it madden you to be unable to persuade the other about the “facts”? If so, ask yourself – What is absolute truth? Do you have to prove the facts? Can you let it go?
When I think about proving my “rightness”, the thinking that accompanies that is:
Black and white thinking,
If…. Then…. thinking,
Either or thinking
And that way of thinking has not ultimately produced the results that I’ve wanted.
I’ve often heard it said, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? I’ve never understood why I wouldn’t be happy if I were also right. That is, until I realized I could be both as long I don’t want to be right to serve my ego by making someone else wrong.
When I try to be right, I notice I’m also feeling competitive, defensive, argumentative, righteous, closed minded, dismissive, and using my listening for ammunition/ evidence of my “rightness” instead of understanding.
What’s more, the payoff from needing to be right is very temporary, very short lived, but relationships can be affected for much longer.
So how do you navigate through the need to be right?
- Breathe. This allows you to push pause on your knee-jerk reactions.
- Be compassionate toward the part of you that needs to be right. It’s ok that you want to be right, or that you feel you are right and need to prove it.
- Notice how different your body feels when you’ve acknowledged the temptation to be right, accepted how you feel, and chose not to act on it.
- Choose again and recognize that the choice may be to get curious about the other’s position or it may be just to simply let it go.
- Feel the freedom in being a responsible adult, knowing that you have control over how you choose to think, act, and how you choose to be in relationship.