Being right could be wrong for business

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Being right could be wrong for business

It feels good to be right, doesn’t it?


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Published: Sun 23 Feb 2014, 11:39 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 7:02 PM

Whether your idea proves the best option, your projection comes true or you’re able to convince someone to accept your viewpoint, there are both physiological and psychological drives behind why we fight to be right. The problem is having to be right can become habitual and stand in the way of good relationships, new learning and transparency. If you’re a business leader, allowing yourself to be wrong can open new doors, inspire employees to learn from mistakes, drive innovation and help you to build good working relationships and a positive corporate culture.

Communications expert Judith Glaser explains that the drive to be right, to argue, defend, rationalise and to win has emotional causes but a physiological enforcer. In her Harvard Business Review blog, Glaser describes how the stress you experience while trying to prove you’re right, stress that arises from threats to your self-esteem and self-concept, triggers the emotional part of your brain. The drive to be right comes from this emotional area and not the cognitive/rational part of the brain. Winning a point activates hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain that make you feel good, feel on top of the world, and this can become addictive.

The problem is, points out Glaser, is that when you operate this way, you don’t consider others. You don’t want to listen to them, you don’t want to really consider their perspective when you’re pushing your own. You may talk over them, become combative or overly authoritative. You aren’t building trust, you’re not using empathy, you’re not necessarily getting the best outcome. When you have to be right, your colleagues or employees react by fighting back, appeasing and agreeing or disengaging from you and the situation in some way. All of these reactions are harmful.

It takes courage to be wrong but vulnerability can help you become a better leader. Strong leaders aren’t those that are afraid to own their emotions, ask for help or admit their mistakes. Real confidence comes from self-knowledge and humility. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can make you a strong leader. Vulnerability makes you human and trustworthy. Chris Conley thinks that the best leaders are vulnerable ones. In an interview with Tara-Nicholle Nelson posted on Forbes, Conley describes how his meteoric rise and epic fall in the travel industry led to this conclusion. After experiencing depression and despair personally and among his colleagues and employees, Conley went on a search for meaning. This resulted in the book Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness and Success.

Conley stresses that leaders that are emotionally-aware and emotionally-intelligent are able to understand, manage and utilise their emotions to influence others. They can take responsibility for creating an emotionally healthy workplace and can fulfill the higher needs of their employees. Vulnerability? Conley considers it a type of power. It makes leaders approachable. Visionary and vulnerable. Having confidence and intention along with vulnerability creates trust and inspires employees.

In my view, your ability to make yourself vulnerable in appropriate circumstances can be your greatest strength. Some tips for practicing vulnerable leadership:

> Admit your own mistakes to improve your credibility.

> Share your fears so that you seem more human to others. This also inspires others to step forward.

> Practice humility so that you don’t become arrogant.

> Share your challenges to inspire others to grow.

> Ask for help from others to build relationships and empower others.

Glaser also offers some tips. Before discussions or meetings, enlist the help of others to lay down ground rules and guidelines so that everyone is heard. Make it a point to really listen to others rather than speaking all of the time. Make a plan for who will speak and honour that.

Combat your need to be right and you may become addicted to the innovation and relationship-building that occurs because of it.

The writer is an executive coach and HR training and evelopment expert. She can be reached at or Views expressed by her are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.

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