Ever find yourself in an argument where you’re so attached to being right you pull every punch you can?
The ones where you need to CONVINCE the other person that they have got it wrong so much that you just become more and more persuasive and less and less interested in what’s going on in the other side of the conversation?
I learned this one at an early age.
I used to do debating at school (do we even do that anymore? Oh, I’m getting old…anyway, stay with me).
Turns out I was exceptionally good at debating. Really.
In my 7 years of senior school I never lost a single debate. Not one. A fact that I was really proud of at the time until I noticed what was happening.
You see, I was so good at winning in debates, that in the end, I never got to debate against the talented debaters anymore. No-one wanted to see their good guys go down and so in the last couple of years, on the whole, I used to end up winning against the younger kids who thought they could take me on.
The good debaters would sit in the audience and come into their own at question time, when they would throw their carefully crafted questions at me and the other member of my team. They didn’t get me even then.
The thing is I got so good at convincing people that I was right, that it didn’t matter whether I was ACTUALLY right at all.
I vividly remember one debate where I was asked an excellent question about flying by a pilot’s daughter. I KNEW she was right. And to acknowledge it would have destroyed my argument. This was about WINNING. So I deployed my very best convincing skills and down she sat.
We won the debate.
We always won the debate.
I realise this makes me sound like a less than lovely person. Remember, it wasn’t a war it was a competition and even so, I look back on it and think, hmmm, maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t go into politics at 21 as I had planned. I definitely had something to learn about humility…
Let’s bring it back to today though. Here’s what I know now:
Being right gets in the way of decent loving conversations.
When we use all of our efforts to convince someone else, interesting things happen. The now deceased Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Non Violent Communication, has it nailed.
He says that whenever we put a demand on the table (to be seen as right or to get what we want with no questions asked), we meet only two responses.
Rebellion or submission.
And whilst in the moment, it might seem really important to win that argument at work or at home, the impact of rebellion or submission is highly significant. Not in the way we planned.
When someone rebels against us, we are straight into even more conflict.
When they submit, they do what it is we want, or agree with us that we are right and then they back off, with all the feelings that come with submission – anger, shame, resentment to name but a few.
BAD RESULT ALL ROUND.
Let’s talk about it in relationship terms.
Ladies, I’m going into that relationship conversation we all love. Politics. (Don’t worry, not a single opinion about to be spouted forth!).
My husband and I don’t see entirely eye to eye on politics. We’re pretty aligned, we have the same values and ethics and we never make quite the same political choices.
So when it comes to voting time, there’s often a bit of discussion going on.
I particularly like to be right about politics. Mainly because over 20 years ago it formed my Bachelors degree topic. This clearly makes me superior in the conversation.
We should definitely ignore the fact that the last time I even attempted to read a manifesto from any party, my eyes glazed over and I fell asleep.
This is irrelevant, as I have a DEGREE.
Also, as you know, I always win debates. And politics is great debating ground.
All this usually means that when it comes to the votes that will be cast in the Macleod household, any conversation is dominated by me putting together a very compelling argument about things I know very little about.
My husband knows this of course. Despite not having a degree in politics, he is actually very up to date with what is going on, you know, RIGHT NOW. He is well informed about who is saying what and I’ve got a sneaky feeling that whilst he may not have read a whole manifesto, he has read a lot more than me.
I don’t always like to let that get in the way of me being right.
So we have these lengthy discussions where I build on my compelling convincing skills to present new arguments that, truth be told, are based on my instinctual responses to the leaders I am most drawn to and also the stuff they have said that validates my already formed choice that they are indeed the right candidate.
(No, we wouldn’t do that, would we friends?).
Somewhere along the line it becomes clear that my husband has more facts than me to play with. For a while I don’t let that get in the way. We end up in the land of rebel or submit.
He throws me a fact. I rebel and give him a piece of heartfelt instinct.
Sometimes he rebels, sometimes he submits (this is me at my most exhausting). Sometimes I back off, sometimes he does.
It’s not a great feeling at the end. The conversations I enjoy the least are the ones where he has backed down, bored, tired, whatever, and deep down I know I MADE IT ALL UP. For winning.
Ugh. This is a bit dim really.
Honestly, I don’t do this so often these days, because I know it’s a daft approach. Some of these lifetime habits, they can be challenging to move away from though. It still happens.
The best times are when I realise what I’m doing. And I stop in my tracks and start listening. Reluctant to be ‘wrong’ and knowing that I will be a better person if I actually stop and HEAR WHAT IS BEING SAID without the need to work out why I am in fact, still right.
Friends, I’m sharing this story of an element of myself that I don’t always love, because I want you to see that the energy of convincing is not a smart one. It’s not smart in relationships, it’s not smart in leadership. It’s not smart in life.
You don’t want your friends, your partner or your team rebelling (because they will go out of their way to undo everything you are trying to create anyway) and you really don’t want submitters (because with the excitement and motivation gone, there’s nothing much left to be with and to enjoy).
In every conversation, you really just want to work out the best way forward.
And you can ONLY do that by not needing to be right.
You can only do that by entering even the most challenging conversations with the intent of discovering the best way forward rather than enforcing your agenda.
People who are able to work through opposing perspectives with curiosity, interest and open-mindedness create amazing things in the world. Things like respect, love, harmony, real solutions to problems.
They are the people we come back to time and time again to discover their thoughts and to share ours in a safe place where we can think them through.
This works in relationships, it works in business, it works in life.
Every time you find yourself dialling up your convincing energy to WIN, you have only one question to ask yourself,
‘What would I learn from this conversation if I dropped the need to be right?’.
And then my friend, you practice the art of QUESTIONING and LISTENING.
Questioning and listening.
Don’t you even think about sharing your opinion just yet lady.
You’ve got some questioning and listening to do.
Got it now?
Great, then share your perspective (which has probably just shifted a little anyway). Do it to add your perspective into the mix, not to throw the other one out of the window.
Do it to see what happens when the two views COME TOGETHER.
Do it with an open heart, because you want to see what happens.
Let me close with this.
Some of you have got all the way down to here thinking,
“That’s not me – I’m the one doing the rebelling and the submitting all the time! I NEVER get to be right!”
Well hello you.
On behalf of all of us who love to be right:
You’ve got good things to say and sometimes we get lost in the fun of winning.
Which isn’t much fun for you at all.
And it sometimes means your great thoughts on what could be happening in the world get thrown out of the window.
So this is me, saying now I KNOW better, I’m going to BE better.
Hopefully I’ll bring a few friends on the journey with me.
Loving you ALL you rebellious bunch you.