The quickest way to piss off your co-workers, your boss, and your clients and customers is to tell them they’re wrong… EVEN IF THEY ARE! The short of it is, telling someone they’re wrong is just plain wrong. Want to be a better manager, employee, parent, friend? I’ll teach you how…
How many of you have had bosses, managers, or parents who constantly told you you’re wrong or something you did was wrong? How did it feel being accused of being wrong? Pretty shitty I’m willing to bet.
When you were told you were wrong, did it ever really effect your actions or your learning? I bet it didn’t. In fact, I’m willing to bet it created resentment in you, and for a large proportion of you, I bet you were even compelled to do the opposite of what was suggested.
What’s interesting is that, EVEN IF YOU ARE WRONG, the mere act of someone telling you you’re wrong STILL causes anger and resentment to form (and thoughts of rebellion).
Almost no one feels good being told they’re wrong. Your first instinct is to get defensive. No matter how wrong you actually were doesn’t matter. Our first instinct as humans is to defend ourselves.
Why We Instinctually Defend Ourselves
Have you ever asked where this knee jerk reaction comes from?
The short answer is: your ego. Every time someone is telling you you’re wrong or your actions are wrong, you immediately identify with this. Your ego is the one calling the shots. And every time your ego, your sense of identity, gets challenged, it has to defend itself.
If your ego didn’t defend itself, it would die. And this, to the ego, is a very literal death. Your ego would cease to exist and something else would take its place.
This is very scary for your ego. So, it defends itself.
It takes years of hard work and introspection to become enlightened enough to surpass one’s own ego. Most people are not this enlightened… even Jesus got pissed off once so this need to get defensive never really goes away.If you want to learn more about egolessness and ways to attain it, I highly recommend reading Pema Chodron’s Smile at Fear and Comfortable With Uncertainty. Those are the best guidebooks I’ve found for the common person to attain heights of egolessness.
We know most people are not saints. So why do we assume that by telling them they’re wrong they’ll be able to take the feedback constructively? Why do we criticize people so harshly and expect anything good?
Criticizing Feels Good
Whenever you tell someone they’re wrong, your mind goes through a series of specific mental steps to come to that conclusion. In doing so, you are actually harming yourself and your relationship with the others, and you’re killing any chance of anyone bettering themselves from the situation.
Let’s look at the exact series of mental steps required to tell someone they’re wrong, and how you can retrain your brain so you’re actually bettering people instead of creating resentments everywhere you go.
Imagine you’re a supervisor and you saw someone do something wrong at the plant. Perhaps they performed an operation out of the prescribed sequence.
First, your brain assesses the situation utilizing all of your senses and past experiences. You go through a series of lookups in your mind to fact check what’s going on. Your brain is basically priming yourself to make a judgement call.
Once you have all of the data you think you need, your brain makes a judgement. Either this person is right or they are wrong. There is no inbetween.
Once you’ve made this judgement, you believe it’s your prerogative to inform this person they are wrong (another judgement).Then you tell this person they’re wrong. How harshly you tell them depends on the size of your ego. This is because the harsher you scold someone, the more powerful you feel. The more powerful you feel, the safer your ego feels. Remember, your ego does not want to die. One solution to this is to make itself feel powerful. (It’s not actually powerful, it just feels that way).
Three things happened before you said, “you’re wrong.” What were they?
- Data collection
- Expressing criticism
I’m going to walk you through each of these stages of “wrongness”, and show you why each step is flawed. Then I’ll show you how to overcome these flaws so that you’ll never tell someone they’re wrong EVER AGAIN. Instead, you’ll work as a team towards solutions together, without resentment, without wrongness, just one strong team. Sounds pretty empowering, doesn’t it?
I. Data Collection
When we collect data prior to judging a situation, we assume we know best and have all of the information needed even if we don’t. It’s not our fault we make these assumptions, our brains are hardwired to do this.
Our brains are constantly filling in the blanks every moment of every day. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to function – every time we blink we’d lose our minds because our brains would be disoriented due to lack of information.
Our brain fills in the blanks when dealing with people and situations too. How many times have you assumed someone made a mistake because they were being stupid or goofing off? How many times have you assumed someone was just a jackass and that’s why they messed up?
Assumptions are the mother of all fuck-ups – perhaps the wisest sentence spoken in the history of man.
The truth is, we can never know what another person is thinking. At best, we can ask them. Anything else is simply a lie we are telling ourselves.I remember once I was reprimanded for nodding off briefly during a four hour meeting. The CEO complained that I was lazy, rude, and disrespectful. That was an assumption he made based on the data he collected. In actuality, I had just been through a breakup with my long-term girlfriend and had been awake for 72 hours straight because I couldn’t sleep. Instead of taking the day off to sleep I went to work that day BECAUSE of the important 4 hour meeting that was about to take place.
I had given that company the very depth of my drive. But, due to an assumption that was made without all of the information, hatred and resentment grew from both sides.
Has this ever happened to you? I’m sure there were plenty of times you were reprimanded by someone who didn’t or couldn’t see all of the dots.
There’s the story of the submarine commander who ordered his men to do a maneuver. They didn’t do it as instructed so he reprimanded them and ordered them to do it anyways. Unfortunately, this commander didn’t have all of the information that his crew had and, by forcing his men to comply, he seriously jeopardized the lives of everyone on the ship.
Just because you think someone is in the wrong does not automatically make it so. It only means that based on your own perspective they are wrong.
Treat your data as the flawed, incomplete data set it is. If you give it any more weight than that you’ll be making assumptions that are, to be frank, wrong.
Often times, we enter judgement BEFORE we data collect. This is what’s known as prejudgement. Based on our biases and beliefs, we will form an opinion of a person and an action. Then, we will cherry-pick the data to match our assumptions.
Do you have that employee that seems to fuck everything up all the time? I’m willing to bet if they DID do something right, you’d probably find a flaw in what they did.
That’s because you have a bias towards that person. And to confirm that bias, you will cherry-pick every little bit of data that supports that person being a fuckup. Or perhaps you have a judgemental parent or community leader. Or perhaps YOU are that judgemental person.
We all have biases and prejudices, we are all guilty of prejudging. But now you are aware that you have them. The trick to getting past prejudging is to recognize you do it. Recognize every time you form a conclusion before you know the evidence. And then, once this becomes habit, you can interrupt your prejudgment.
You can stop your habit of prejudgment. Turn every prejudgment into a trigger for self-reflection. When you do this habitually, you will be well on your way to becoming an enlightened leader.
Once you have the data, you want to make a judgement call. Judging people feels good. In fact, it feels great most of the time.
The reason is because when you judge someone or something, you feel right. You feel vindicated. Your whole reason for being alive is confirmed and reinforced. You judged someone!
Unfortunately, no one likes to be judged. Judging builds resentments. It puts other people beneath you.
Think of the judge at a courthouse. That judge is above everyone, both literally (have you seen those giant-assed desks?) and figuratively (the judge can find you in contempt just for looking at them funny).When you judge someone, you are telling them, “I am above you and you are below me. I am better than you. Therefore, I do not respect you.”
This is the reason judging builds resentment. Who wouldn’t resent someone who doesn’t respect them?
The answer to passing judgement is simply to not. Realize you are a flawed human being just like the person you want to help. Each of us is no better or worse than anyone else. We simply are, and that is enough.
III. Expressing Criticism
You’ve now formulated your argument, you are sure you’re in the right. This means you’re ready to express your criticism to someone else.
Starting with the words “you’re wrong” is simply wrong. See what I did there? I threw it back in your face! I bet you got a little flustered.
There is no such thing as wrong. In fact, everyone is right from their own personal perspective. How else can you explain political parties? No one would INTENTIONALLY be wrong. From their perspective they are correct. Otherwise they wouldn’t fight so hard!
This is the key to overcoming your need to be right all the goddamn time. Everyone is correct from their point of view. So, before you express criticism, spend time asking questions to find out what the other person’s point of view is.
Ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity, not from a place of superiority or condemnation. Compare the following: “What was your thinking in putting a damper on the hyperspace drive?” vs. “Did you really put a damper on the hyperspace drive? Geeze!” (Han Solo can be a dick sometimes).
The real key is to direct the conversation towards outcomes. There is no such thing as wrong. Let me give you an example:
Suppose an assembly worker is constantly making mistakes on the conveyer belt. You see them as being wrong because parts are being assembled suboptimally. Instead of telling the worker they’re wrong and they need to stop making so many stupid mistakes, first think to yourself, “Why would someone want to make stupid mistakes? Surely nobody WANTS to make stupid mistakes.” This will diffuse your judgements and open your mind.
Now, ask the worker in private what led them to making mistakes. Perhaps they were rushing because they don’t have enough time to get ready before work, or perhaps lunch is too short so they’re always rushing, or perhaps his kid is in the hospital, or the quota is too large to do everything perfectly.
After asking many different questions to understand their perspective, you can ask them questions so they understand the outcome their decisions are making. With poorly made parts on the assembly line, customers could get injured, or perhaps units won’t be sold because they’re poor quality.
Don’t come to this conclusion yourself, have the other person come to this conclusion. Ask stupid questions like, “What would happen if a defective product got sold to a customer?” Sure, we all KNOW the answer to that one, and we think others do as well. But perhaps they never really thought about it before.
People are selfish and usually only think of themselves, asking dumb questions that may seem obvious to you are not always obvious to everyone else. Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions.
And now it’s time to work together to find a solution. People are so desperate to be right all the time, they forget that we’re all in this together. You’re a team damnit! And everyone is working towards some set of shared goals. Even if you’re talking to a stranger you met on the street, your shared goal is surviving at the very least! And attaining happiness.
There Is No Wrong…
What outcome do you ultimately want? Do you want to be right? Or do you want to improve people’s lives, be of service to one another?
Remember, no one is ever wrong, and everyone thinks they’re right. The key is to help each other explore different perspectives and to work together to come up with a shared solution.