The Subtle Art of Not Being Right

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“Being absolutely right and being spectacularly wrong feel exactly the same.” – Scott Adams

I have a friend who I’ll call Noah. Noah is intelligent, ambitious, and kind. He has a good job and healthy relationships.

But for all of his admirable qualities, there’s one thing about Noah – he always needs to be right.

Whether he’s defending a political position or justifying why someone shouldn’t be mad at him, Noah wants to win the conversation.

For Noah, being right is the end goal. It’s part of his identity.

He’ll do whatever it takes to have his stance accepted. This approach works out most of the time. The other person acquiesces under the pressure of Noah’s “passionate” positions.

But sometimes, his approach fails miserably. These times are critical.

Because when Noah’s drive to be right fails, he’s perceived as an inflexible guy who lacks compassion. Sometimes, he fractures a relationship. Other times, he makes a bad business decision.

Perhaps you also have a friend like Noah. Maybe you and Noah are similar.

Almost certainly, you have been in a situation where you have fought hard to be right, won the short-term battle, and suffered the unintended consequences of your quest.

Being right is not inherently bad, but it does have consequences.

And if you aren’t aware of this reality, you might end up as the victor standing on top of a world with hurt friends and resentful partners.

There is a fine line between being a compassionate truth seeker who wants the best outcome for everyone and being an ego-driven maniac blinded by your own perception of reality.

But if being right can screw things up so badly, why do we seek it in the first place?

Because being right feels good.

Being right is an ego stroke. In many cases, it’s rewarded. Being right is what makes our teachers like us when we grow up. Being right is what gets us the reward in business. Being right is what proves that we’re smarter than the person next to us.

But here’s the problem:

The desire to be right blinds us.

When we need to be right:

  • We don’t realize that the argument with our girlfriend isn’t about facts. It’s about someone feeling hurt. If we respond to that hurt with rational arguments that prove our point, nothing gets solved. Instead, resentment builds.
  • We surround ourselves with people who have similar worldviews. Instead of confronting the discomfort of people who have different views and who might teach us something, we stay in self-imposed echo chambers of like-minded people. This approach is comfortable, but limiting.
  • We fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy. We want our initial hypothesis or investment to be right, so we sink more resources into a project. Instead of recognizing we were wrong and investing in more ROI-positive initiatives, we get stuck in mediocrity.

The drive to be right is blinding. If we don’t pay attention, it can lead to broken relationships, non-diverse friend groups, and terrible business decisions.

Being right isn’t worth these costs.

So what can you do?

For the next week, pay attention to how the desire to be right manifests in your life. When you see it happening, pause. Think about whether or not being right is the right thing to do.

If a new acquaintance says something that you don’t believe, or if a family member starts supporting a political position you disagree with, just listen and try to understand where they are coming from. No counterarguments. No proving your point. Just listen.

This is a subtle, but significant shift.

It doesn’t mean that you tolerate false claims or drop your convictions, but it does mean that you don’t tie your self-worth and ego to being right.

And when you make this shift, a few wonderful things will happen.

You’ll be more open to new ideas. You’ll be curious about why people believe what they believe. You’ll be less blind to your many biases. You’ll develop healthier relationships.

Most importantly, you’ll be able to enjoy more of what the world has to offer.

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