Focus on What’s Right, Not Who’s Right
There are a lot of us who enjoy being right. But when our need to be right drives decision-making and becomes a consistent source of conflict, it mistakenly becomes the focus. Invariably, we’ll probably fail to land on the best solution because we’ve allowed the issue to become more about a battle of our will or simply being right versus surfacing the best solution. If you’ve struggled with this challenge, understand that this can really hurt your credibility as a leader and negatively impact team members, their morale, and their performance. Don’t let solutions and problem solving get personal in nature. Model confidence in this problem-solving approach, keeping the focus on what’s right, not who is right.
It’s been my experience in life that people generally like to be right. My wife, Robin, tells me, “You know John, there is nothing you enjoy more in life than being right.” I know her insight is spot-on because I’ve always been that way. There is just something about “being right” that validates how clever and intelligent we are. It just makes us feel good regardless of our IQs—yet it can get us into trouble, particularly on the business front.
Over the years, MAP consultants have witnessed many clients as well as their employees personalize disagreements. What’s happening is that people are more interested in their own ideas because they’re emotionally attached to them instead of focused in sourcing the best solutions. Then when their ideas get adopted for the wrong reason and problems with those solutions or changes crop up, they usually go into defensive mode, shifting or refusing to take the blame. 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, MAP coaches its clients around creating a “ground rule” for communication and meetings, in particular, that rule is: “Attack the problem, not the person.”
Here are some practices to help support a communication strategy that’s geared toward what’s right, not who is 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 to offer to the business. They feel a sense of freedom to express what they think, believe and know, particularly relative to developing solutions. So demonstrate confidence by not having to be right all the time, and you will come across as someone who is eternally open to other ideas. Then be proactive about reflecting a communication style that reinforces your desire to have open discussions around new and different ideas. For example, let’s say you are in a meeting, sharing an idea, and someone challenges your strategy with a different solution. When this happens, look at this as a chance to reflect a confident leadership style that values openness. Facilitate a meaningful discussion about the other idea and determine if it has merit or maybe trumps your idea, fair and square.
Admit when you’re not right. I’ve worked with plenty of professionals who have been afraid to admit they were ever wrong. We’d be in a meeting and that person would be presented with all kinds of facts and other kinds of qualitative, albeit important bits of information that would prove that their thinking was clearly erroneous. Yet they would still take their stance, dig in their heels, and refuse to give in to any other line of thinking. Politicians do this all the time, and sometimes it can be almost comical and other times pathetic to watch this behavior play out because everyone around that person knows the truth. Once there’s an obvious pattern of behavior, it can erode leadership credibility and respect. Remember, as much as we want to be right, it just isn’t possible all the time. And in business, there can be a huge benefit to admitting that you’re wrong in certain situations. So don’t allow the desire or need to be right undermine your leadership effectiveness. If you screw up, own and admit your mistakes and take corrective action.
Involve others in your decisions. Many times as a leader, you’re ultimately responsible for making decisions and being right. So the challenge is getting the right answer before making your “final decision.” Start by asking people for their input from the get-go and then involve others as you continue through any decision-making process, encouraging them to contribute their ideas and solutions.
At MAP, we teach “Team Consulting.” This is a structured method for getting a group of individuals involved in developing solutions to problems. If you’ve used it, you know that this approach focuses on what is right, directly making a statement that you don’t have all the answers and that you don’t need to be right. It communicates that you require the support of others to make the best decisions and find the right solutions. It’s a great practice to have because it sends the message that you’re not afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers, all the time, and that you understand the value of “group intelligence.” Use it from the problem-solving get-go and you’ll source more of the right kind of solutions in a much speedier and effective way.
What are some signs that a discussion has gone from being about what is right to who is right?