Do You Really Want to Be Right?

  • Written by Rick Oneal
  • -Monday, February 21, 2011

The Need to Be Right

The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas. It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong than to be always right by having no ideas at all. – Edward De Bono

We fail to recognize a critical principle of behavior: the need to be right is much stronger than the need to be effective. You may be trading your effectiveness and relationships for the need to be right.

For most of us, the very thought of being wrong or making a mistake implies a personal inadequacy – not good enough. Then you reap what you sow by digging in your heels to be right and losing credibility.

When you need to be right you willfully impose your views on others – whether they want them or not – and collaboration and teamwork become meaningless words.

We are hard wired to be right; it is part of our defense mechanism – to protect ourselves at all costs. It’s our survival mode. We come from a position of inefficiency – “I am not enough” or “I don’t have enough.” Our need to be right results in us competing with others and defending our viewpoint.

The need to be right increases when we experience stress, fear, high levels of uncertainty, or lack of confidence. We loathe being wrong when it makes us feel inadequate or insufficient.

The Consequences of Needing to Be Right

  1. People work around you and not with you.
    People do not want to “waste” their time or energy in a no win situation. If you are looking for what is wrong with another’s perspective – they will avoid you.
  2. People abdicate accountability and let you do all the thinking.
    Others stop making decisions and contributing. When you are in the closed loop you cannot hear what others are saying and they know it.
  3. Problems are not resolved effectively.
    Solving problems within the framework of what you already know results in closed problem solving. You will be right and find evidence (and people) to support your beliefs. You are left with the same solutions, not open to new ones.
  4. You lose the ability to adapt and recover quickly.
    When the complexity of the environment exceeds the capacity of the person or organization, the environment will dominate and ultimately destroy both.

The law of requisite variety (sometimes referred to as Ashby’s Law after William Ashby who proposed it) states “The variety in the control system must be equal to or larger then the variety of the perturbations in order to achieve control.” In plain English “The most flexible system or person is the most powerful one.”

Stay flexible, live into your power, and be open to the perspectives of others.

Rick Oneal is a Board member and a facilitator for Foundations for Tomorrow.