How to help your team stop trying to be right

People who always ‘need’ to be right are an incredible drain of creative energy. It’s unpleasant to engage in discussion with them. Whether you know someone like this, or you are this person, I’ve got a nifty exercise for you to try.

I learned this from my Conscious Leadership practice and I’d love to share it out to everyone else.

I recommend doing this exercise with your co-workers, your parents, your significant other, or your stubborn uncle Joe.

Step 1: “Think of a simple mathematical equation you know to be true”

Most people will say something like “1 + 1 = 2”.

“Great, now how much would you fight to defend this belief?”

Most people will say “not very much”. Why? Because everyone knows that 1 + 1 = 2 and fighting against someone who doesn’t believe that is pointless.

Step 2: “Okay, now think of something at work/home that you believe to be true.”

One example response is “I know better than Alex about how to run a marketing campaign”.

“How much are you willing to fight for this belief?”

If they are being honest, then the answer is probably a lot.

I’ve tried this out now with a handful of people and they all found it quite eye-opening.

The reason for this disparity is because you have confidence that billions of people will agree with you that “1 + 1 = 2”. You feel confident that your assertion will be validated. With the Alex marketing example, you don’t have confidence that other people will validate your assertion. Your value and credibility is at risk and your brain prepares itself for battle against this threat. That’s why you’re willing to fight for it.

What you actually want is not to be right, it’s to be seen as being right, to be validated and appreciate for being right.

It’s all about the ego. Whenever you notice yourself or others fighting to be right, step back and acknowledge that this is happening because human brains are wired to seek security and control. Being seen as being right brings that security. Acknowledging this will help you take a more open-minded and curious posture to the issue at hand. Acknowleding the threat makes it clear that it’s not real, that you’re not actually in any danger. You can use this awareness to shift into a mindset of being willing to learn.

For my fellow startup founders: if you have a culture where people spend less time trying to be seen as being right, then you have a culture where people are spending more time on learning.