How to Be Wrong

I need to tell you something. I hope you don’t mind. You see, what I have to tell you might not be something you want to know. But here goes, “You are not always right.” This is my polite way of telling you that sometimes you are wrong.

It’s OK. Believe it or not, we all are wrong about something. We are wrong regularly and repeatedly. It is the nature of who we are. I am not asking you to dwell on when you are wrong or what it is you are wrong about. I ask you to consider how are you wrong? Translation, when you are wrong about something, how do you behave and how does this impact your team?

When you do not believe that you are wrong you might adopt one of these approaches:

  • You are convinced that as soon as you share the facts with others, they will see your point and come over to your side of the argument. This will lead you to work to teach others the ‘real facts’ so that they too can be right.
  • You see that others have the same facts as you and they simply do not get it, therefore they must be idiots. Unfortunately this might lead you to condescend to them and to disregard any contributions from them.
  • You see that they have the facts and they are not idiots, so they must be purposefully disregarding what is clearly right. In fact, you might think they are saboteurs and so you treat them like an enemy. You decide to hide information from them and exclude them so that they cannot cause trouble.

What if you do recognize that you are wrong? Do you hide it, admit it or look for someone else to blame?

  • When you try to cover up the fact that you are wrong about something you damage your integrity. Perhaps you do this because you come from a culture where admitting an error is a sign of weakness or you are afraid of losing face. When you are wrong and you hide it, you are teaching your team to engage in the same behavior. This makes it very difficult to proactively solve issues.
  • When you look for someone else to blame, you are hiding the fact that you are wrong PLUS telling a lie about someone else. This is even worse for your integrity and your credibility. Now you are teaching your team to use other team members as human shields. This makes it very difficult to build any kind of high performing team.
  • When you are wrong and you admit it, you model responsibility and integrity for your team. You can proactively address issues, you can demonstrate how to behave like an adult professional and you can all move forward.

Granted in different corporate cultures and political climates there are different rules about how to be wrong. Unfortunately some of these cultures do encourage insisting that you are right or shifting blame, but you always get to decide how you will behave and what rules you will use when you are wrong.