Focus on What’s Right, Not Who’s Right
Most people enjoy being right. There is something about “being right” that validates how clever and intelligent we are. It makes us feel good regardless of our IQs—yet it can get us into trouble, particularly on the business front. But when that need to be right drives decision-making and becomes a consistent source of conflict, it mistakenly becomes a focus. Invariably, we fail to land on the best solution because we’ve allowed an issue to become a battle of will versus finding the best answer. If you’ve struggled with this challenge, understand that it can really hurt your credibility as a leader and negatively impact team members, their morale, and their performance.
Don’t let brainstorming and problem-solving get personal! Model confidence in a team approach to problem-solving, and keep your focus on what’s right, not who is right.
Over the years, our consultants have witnessed many clients (as well as employees) that personalize disagreements. People are more interested in their own ideas, and they become emotionally attached to those ideas instead trying to find the best solutions. Then, when those emotional ideas are adopted and problems with those solutions crop up, the leader goes into defensive mode. They may shift blame or refusing to take responsibility. Once again, the focus isn’t truly about fixing the problem. It’s about some emotional need to be right. To address this common issue, we set a ground rule: “Attack the problem, not the person.”
Here’s how to focus on what’s right, not who’s right:
Be open to others’ ideas. Part of what gives a dynamic workplace its energy is the fact that it’s full of people with different opinions. Employees feel a sense of freedom to express what they think, believe, and know, particularly relative to developing solutions. You can demonstrate confidence by letting others lead when their ideas are proactive, and openly discussions solutions with your team before they are adopted. Set a communication style that reinforces your desire to have open discussions around new and different ideas. When someone challenges your strategy with a different solution, look at it as a chance to show a confident leadership style that values openness and alternative ideas. Facilitate a meaningful discussion about their idea and be willing to accept (and support!) it if the team feels strongly that it is better.
Admit when you’re wrong. I’ve worked with plenty of professionals who are afraid to admit when they’re wrong. The person is presented with facts and qualitative bits of information that goes against their preferred thinking. Even when proven wrong, they take a defiant stance, dig in their heels, and refuse to give in to any other line of thinking. Politicians do this all the time. Sometimes it can seem comical, and other times pathetic, to watch this behavior play out. An obvious pattern of such behavior will erode leadership credibility and respect. Remember, as much as we want to be right, it just isn’t possible all the time. In business, there can be a huge benefit to admitting that you’re wrong. If you screw up, own and admit your mistakes and take corrective action.
Involve others in your decisions. As a leader, you’re ultimately responsible for making decisions. Start by asking others for input from right away, and then involve your team as you work through any decision-making process, and encourage them to contribute their ideas and solutions. Team consulting is a structured method for getting a group of individuals involved in developing solutions. If you’ve used it, you know this approach focuses on accepting that you don’t have all the answers, and you don’t need to be right. It’s a great practice, because it sends the message that you’re not afraid to work with others and value their views and perspectives. It also goes far to promoting the value of “group intelligence.” Use it, and you’ll find more of the right solutions in a much speedier and more effective way.
What are some signs that a discussion has gone from being about what is right to who is right?