How easy is it for you to admit that you are wrong? If you are like most people, it’s something you try to avoid if at all possible. But what if your refusal to admit that you are wrong is actually keeping you from having great relationships, experiencing personal growth and being a good leader?
I know that admitting that you are wrong is not easy. Our ego becomes very defensive when someone suggests that we are not right. This is especially true if we need approval from others or are afraid of being vulnerable. So as a defense mechanism, we try to put the problem outside of ourselves, usually blaming others instead.
As the presidential debates and elections flood the news, we see examples of this every day. One candidate says something bad about the other. The other candidate fights back by criticizing the first one. It can get very frustrating to watch. How often do we see someone say instead: “You know, s/he has a good point. I may have been wrong about this part. Let’s discuss this further?”
Of course, the problem with the presidential election is that nobody wants to be vulnerable because they really want the approval of others, since that translates into votes. But what if we are not in an election and do not need to rely on votes from others?
The cost of needing to be right is great. In personal as well as work relationships, not being willing to admit that we are wrong causes many arguments. It easily leads to blaming the other person, which leads to defensiveness, which leads to more blaming etc. The cycle never stops.
If we can never admit fault, it also keeps us from learning and growing as a person. We will never be able to look at what we can do better in the future.
It also prevents us from being a good leader, whether in our own life or at work. We may not be able to admit when a change in direction is required. It is also hard to earn the respect of others if we don’t take self-responsibility and always blame others or circumstances instead.
I used to have a very hard time with admitting that I was wrong. Even when I knew that I slipped up, it was very hard to actually say: “I know, I was wrong.” My ego was fighting me every step of the way. Just thinking of saying the words made me feel very anxious. Being right to me meant that I was smart, capable and safe. Being wrong made me feel stupid, unworthy, and unsafe.
So what can we do to overcome our ego and admit our mistakes?
- Change your perspective
What do you tell yourself when you are wrong? Write it down. For example: “Others will think that I am stupid. This means that I am not worthy.” Is that really true? Channel your Inner Champion and write down what s/he says about being wrong: “It’s ok, everyone makes mistakes. I am still a good person. I will learn and grow from this. Others will respect me for admitting that I was wrong rather than trying to cover it up.”
- Change your language
Rather than telling yourself that you were “wrong” or made a “mistake” and blaming yourself, think about what you can take accountability for in your particular situation. For example, you can take accountability for not asking questions or for ignoring a feeling that something wasn’t right or simply choosing something that didn’t work out.
- Don’t fall into either/or thinking
In our society, we often see things as either black or white, which leads to seeing things as either right or wrong. But the truth is that most things are not that simple. Once we realize that there is much more complexity, we fall into fewer arguments about who is “right” or “wrong.” We can start to validate each other’s points and find some common ground.
- Agree not to blame or become defensive
As I have written about before, Blaming and Defensiveness are 2 of the 4 horsemen that destroy relationships. In any close relationship you have with someone, you can simply agree not to blame each other and not to become defensive. That will make it much easier not to feel that you have to fight to be right and to admit when you are at fault.
As you realize that admitting that you are wrong does NOTHING to diminish your worth, it becomes much easier to do. Are you willing to practice being wrong?