The Need To Be Right

Am I the only one who struggles with the need to be right?

Actually, that’s not quite correct. My real issue involves needing others to acknowledge that I’m right.

I get passionate about something, an idea, a cause, a program—nothing wrong with that. But the next thing you know I’m immersed in a knockdown argument with someone who disagrees. I perceive it, but I can’t let it go. Just one last comment, one more tweet, and my desire for the last word becomes an endless series of “one more” responses.

The Internet feeds my obsession. I love reading comments on this blog (Hint to the reader!) so I try to reciprocate by engaging in other places. Then someone responds to my pearl of wisdom and off we go. With the best of intentions, I’m embroiled in a life-and-death debate with someone I’ve never met.

These running battles become significant time sinks, but the real problem arises when I actually alienate and offend. Sometimes it’s the person with whom I’m debating, but observers get caught in the waves as well. I’m reminded of an old saying: Never argue in public with an idiot. Listeners may not be able to tell the difference. In many of these exchanges, I’m afraid I tend to play the role of idiot.

I’m working on doing better. It’s hard, because I tend to be a sort of all-in or all-out guy. Either I engage at the level of fanatic or I simply avoid the conversation entirely.

I’ve listed some strategies. Perhaps you can offer your ideas in the comments (there’s that hint again).

Understand the other person’s perspective first. Steven Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Of course I tend to think this is great advice for others. I’m in too much of a rush to get my ideas out there, but it doesn’t usually work very well.

Value relationships more than information, data, or opinions. People are much more likely to actually listen when they know me and, more importantly, when they feel I know them. Coaches are fond of saying, “Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Trite, but true.

In the end, people are impressed more by emotional connections than by logic, even when they don’t realize it. Effective marketers know this.

Beware of false dichotomies. Black-or-white makes things easier, but the real world presents a rainbow. Subtle differences in shade or texture abound. Sometimes there really are only two sides and a distinct line divides truth and lie, but more frequently it’s helpful to think of a spectrum in which wisdom lies more in the middle than at the extremes.

Choose your battles carefully. Some hills are worth fighting for or even dying on. Most aren’t.

Sometimes I need to walk (or roll) away. When two people operate from totally different assumptions, logical debate is impossible. In those cases, relationships are preserved only by stepping back. This requires courage and humility, which are frequently in short supply in the heat of a passionate discussion about deeply-held values.

Think long-term. I really believe life is about relationship and connection, and those happen over time. I learned as a teacher that I frequently influenced kids in ways I never imagined, sometimes years after they sat in my classroom. I thought of it as tossing pebbles into a pond. Most of the time I never see where the ripples end up, but I trust that their impact is a function of the kind of pebble I tossed.

Love. As Jesus said, this really encapsulates all the rest. Love is never about coercion or judgment. Hitting others over the head with truth might not be the most effective tactic.

It’s really about identifying core values, those “true north” principles that supersede everything else. And once I know them, I need to constantly seek the wisdom to apply them in a world that constantly tempts me to wander in a different direction.

How about you? How do you avoid hurtful arguments?