Most people would associate being wrong with something negative, and there is a lot of truth to that. If you get the answer wrong on a school test or an interview, you might fail your test or not get the job. If you bet your money on a company and the company fails, you lose money. Very often, being wrong comes with a clear penalty.

But if we try to avoid being wrong, does that mean we have to be right? I learned that we don’t have to be right to produce success, and looking at the world from such a binary point of view doesn’t lead to optimal results. Throughout this text, I am describing my newly developed point of view on this matter and how it changed my work style.

Everyone thinks they are right

I didn’t even realize that everyone thinks they are right until I read the classic “How to Win Friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie. The book has a couple of chapters devoted to this phenomenon, and it was an eye-opening experience for me. Once I read this, I started realizing how true it was.

It was easy to look back at the previous conflicts and realize that in all cases, both (or all) sides were trying hard to prove the other side wrong. And I was the same way. I would find articles, studies, and other arguments to prove my point. But surprise - it somehow never worked. I would often leave the conflicts bitter without changing my opinions.

Try to think about the conflicts from your past: how often were you able to successfully prove your point? If the argument gets heated and emotions start running high, even if you show someone they are obviously wrong, they refuse to acknowledge that. For a second, they might even get taken by the realization but after they collect themselves, they will start finding counterarguments and excuses as to why your proof is wrong. Or sometimes, they will plainly resort to being rude.

I finally trained myself to be on the lookout for these situations, and now I always try to stop the urge to prove that I am right.

Avoid the trap of trying to be right

The reality is much more complicated than the binary view of being right or wrong. Once you start looking at the conflicts from this perspective, you’ll notice that it’s so much easier to troubleshoot and navigate them because you’ll start to understand that there are so many states between these two extremes. And most often, both the source and the resolution of the conflict are somewhere in there.

I changed my behavior to use the following approach every time I try to communicate with a different team - and so far, I was able to completely avoid conflicts, which is far more than I expected when I made the change:

  • Start the conversation by showing empathy. I now really try to understand the other side, and I explicitly state that. Everyone likes when they’re being heard and are immediately more open to understanding your side of the story once you show you are willing to do the same. This sets the tone to not look at the conversation from opposing sides.
  • Try to understand your own point of view. Any pushback to my ideas and proposals most probably has a genuine reason behind it. As I encounter them, I try to understand if I overlooked some aspects. For example, if I want to change the color of only the form that my team owns, perhaps there is a reason other teams complain since the colors are agreed to be the same across the whole website? Trying to prove to the other teams that my form should be of a different color if we all agreed on one color doesn’t sound like a good strategy.
  • Are all parties on the same page? If I understand my own point of view and we’re past the point of heated arguments, are we on the same page? We’re not at the resolution stage yet, but we’ll never get there unless we understand each other’s points of view.
  • Search for the common ground if the solution is still unclear. If you understand each other and still disagree - is there a common set of interests that we can apply, i.e. can we make a compromise? In the example of the color argument, maybe another team agrees to provide their designer to redesign our page so that we don’t need to change the color.

Experiment with the above steps, and you’ll see immediate improvements in the way people respond to you.

You can also learn to never be wrong

Another good suggestion is that instead of aiming to be right, you aim to not be wrong. I read about this framing in Will’s blog post learn to never be wrong. I highly recommend giving this post a read. The ideas are very similar to what I described above, and Will recommends not trying to prove anyone wrong but trying to understand everyone’s point of view and aim to drive alignment that fits everyone’s point of view, instead of trying to force your opinion on others.

Parting thoughts

Some of the conflicts you encounter might be because either you or the other side is trying hard to prove the other side wrong. If you recognize this pattern, you might be able to avoid some of these conflicting situations and even resolve them in a way that makes all parties happy.