When it is better to be wrong

Some of my kids are teenagers now. Which means they know it all, which is pretty cool, I guess. They find it irritating when I occasionally seem to think that I know more about a topic than they do. “Stupid dad. You don’t know everything. You might be wrong, y’know”.

Usually, when you are working with grown-ups (people who have been out of college for a few years), you expect that this kind of behavior has subsided. In fact, the older your colleagues are, the more you expect them to be level-headed and rational about stuff. Sometimes, I even forget that it is possible for some people to not-grow-up.

It is usually pretty surprising when you encounter a grown-up who just wants to be right, for the simple reason that it feels nice. I’m sure you have had an experience like this, when a co-worker is talking about something and clearly, they are wrong. You try to reason with them, and then the other person decides that they just want to be right and win an argument. So, now you are left with some really weird choices:

  1. Continue to persuade this person, and hope that they succumb to reason
  2. Fall into the trap where you must triumph over this person. You tell yourself that it is a noble cause, simply because this person is wrong, but really it is because your ego can’t bear the idea of being bested by a fool.
  3. Be the grown-up, and drop it, and walk-away, without being passive-aggressive about it.

Options 1 and 3 are pretty hard. Probably 3 is the hardest. Let’s face it, when someone is being an a*hole, you really feel compelled to join-in and prove that you are the bigger a*hole. There doesn’t seem to be much reward for behaving like a real grown-up and being a bigger person (on the inside).

However, as I have tried to point-out to my teens: there is no reward for being the bigger a*hole. You only end up being a bigger loser. It can become a bad habit.

I would counter, that there are some distinct rewards for conceding, and accepting defeat (whether it is true or not):

  • It builds character (in you). If you have seen the movie “Fight Club”, this is why Tyler Durden assigned the members of “project mayhem”, to pick a fight and intentionally lose. It builds character and ultimately makes you a stronger person. You can learn a lot from such an experience, but you might not realize it right away.
  • What if the other person actually is right? Golly, that seems unlikely, but what if? I’m serious. If somehow, that person is actually right, and his way turns-out really well, then (by backing-down) you don’t look like an epically gigantic a*hole by being right and being responsible for things turning out really badly.
  • On the other hand, if this person really is wrong and things turn out badly, then the other person will seem like an epic a*hole, instead of you; Reaping what he has sewn, and so-forth. Now you just have to show the maturity to not dish-out an “I told you so”. Ehem.
  • Maybe you both could learn something from the experience. They say people learn more from their mistakes, than from their successes.
  • Maybe this argument really doesn’t matter and you are just fluffing your ego. Try picking your battles. If this mistake won’t sink the ship, then just try losing a battle and focus on winning a war.

Advanced techniques like this really require tremendous inner strength. They are an indication of maturity and wisdom. Other people will recognize it. Especially people who are honorable, and those are the people who really matter anyway.

So, pick your battles. If you are having trouble making this transition, try taking some advice from Tyler Durden. Choose to intentionally lose a fight every now and then. It will make it easier to do the right thing, next time you need to.

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About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in Lessons Learned, Professionalism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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