The Cost of Being Right

By Deb Brown Maher

This post was written by Deb Brown Maher of Deb Brown Sales. To connect with Deb, see the information in the bio at the end of this post.

Everyone likes to be right. As soon as we realize we are wrong, we change so that we are right again. (You’re laughing because it’s true!)

Although there is undeniably great value in accuracy and precision at work, when proving that you are right is the goal, the repercussions can be devastating — because if I’m right, that makes you wrong. What happens when you prove a boss wrong in a meeting in front of colleagues? Or a coworker? How might your insistence on being right impact those relationships?

It All Seemed So Right …

At times in my personal life, I have valued being right, sometimes at the cost of my relationships. For example, as a teenager my mom and I were constantly at odds because, among other things, we both really liked being right. Growing up, Mom owned a Steinway baby grand piano. When you have a quality instrument like that in the house, naturally everyone takes piano lessons. Mom was so talented that she could be in the kitchen cooking, listening to me practice, and call out the exact notes that I missed! That infuriated me because I knew she was right — which made me wrong.

As I got older, I realized that Mom is truly a special person. Over the years she’s grown increasingly dependent on me to provide guidance and emotional support. This includes frequent visits. During one of those visits, Mom and I were reminiscing about a concert we went to. She recalled that the singer who performed was Luciano Pavarotti. But that wasn’t right, so I said, “Mom, it was Bocelli, not Pavarotti who sang that concert.” She shot back, “No, it was Pavarotti.” Well, I just knew I was right, so I insistently retorted, “No, it was Bocelli.”

I thought the disagreement was settled, but later Mom brought it up again: “I know it was Pavarotti,” she said. Now I’m on a mission to prove that I’m right, so I looked up the concert online and showed her. “See? It was Bocelli — not Pavarotti.” When faced with the hard proof, she quickly said, “Oh, you’re right.”

A woman is facing another woman at a table and pointing her finger.

The Cost of Being Right

I was about to start my victory dance because being right feels so good. But before I could, Mom began saying, “I’m so stupid. I can’t get anything right. My memory is going. I must be getting Alzheimer’s.”

You know that sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach that spreads through your whole body in a flash? Yeah, that one .The weight of what I had done hit me as if I had walked in front of a Mack truck. I was right, but I was dead right. My assertion sent Mom into a tailspin of self-doubt at the speed of light.

I tried, but here was nothing I could say to remedy what my words had put into motion. It took Mom three weeks to stop talking about how stupid she felt. Every time she said it, a knife went through my heart, and I was keenly reminded of the cost of my decision to be right. I could have chosen to be kind by letting it go. What did it really matter who sang at that concert? Nothing.

How important is it to preserve someone’s self-worth? It’s irreplaceable. I learned a painful lesson that day. Now, whenever possible, if I have a choice between being right and being kind, I choose kindness.

Being Kind (Instead of Right) at Work

When I must confront inaccuracies or engage in difficult conversations to persuade, I first consider the person. Instead of making it my goal to be right, my focus is to connect and have a meaningful dialogue about the matter at hand. I remind myself that there may be facts I don’t know that influence the best course of action. I give the other person ample opportunity to explain their thought process instead of accusing them of being wrong.

I find that when I embody this practice, we often end up on the same side of the table working through a problem together instead of at odds with each other. Rather than focus on who’s right, we revel in joining forces to get a superior outcome that everyone contributes to and can celebrate. 

The difficult lesson I learned with my mom has brought me to this realization: When we lead with kindness at work, precision and accuracy will follow, goals get accomplished, and relationships are preserved.

So when the need to be right rears its ugly head, I remember what happened in my previous experience and ask myself, is being right worth the cost?

Featured photo by Afif Ramdhasuma on Unsplash; in-text photo by SHEVTS production on Pexels


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