“You are wrong.” I said, my voice steady and the blankest expression I could muster in my face.
“Ok so what if I am?” the guy in front of me said, defiance shinning bright in his words. A small audience was following our discussion with interest. All of them worked for me and yet none was on my side.
“I don’t know, but why do you want to be right?” I asked, this time allowing my face and tone of voice to accompany the gravity of the question I asked.
What followed was silence at first and then the awkwardness that follows those moments. You know, the rustling of legs against the seats, throats being cleared. It wasn’t a long silence, just long enough to allow everyone to wish to change the subject. I didn’t but rather, watched the tide turn over.
The fact that nobody in that room ever knew was that this guy, in fact, was not so wrong. The person arguing with me had a stronger point than me, and he had came close to proving it. Being right does not always mean being right though, and that was the problem. Him being right meant that we, as a team, had reached a boundary we couldn’t cross. He couldn’t see beyond that boundary though, he just wanted to be right. I knew that and so did his peers, which is why I won the argument: they had decided that before he had came for me.
The topic at hand was hard to deal with as it involved two things that every employee wants: more money and a career plan. Managers (good ones at least) try to get those things but as you probably know, it’s never that easy. Time had passed and they wanted to see progress. This person had a point on why these things weren’t happening for them fast enough. The implication was a tough one: it meant the Company (and by association, me), just couldn’t do it.
Without going into the weeds, all I can say is that at some point, we were both somewhat right. Confirming his point of view would have had a terrible impact on the team’s morale though. It didn’t make his point less right, it only made it more urgent. Mine was right too, yet less acceptable by the crowd. I didn’t want to lie, specially not to the whole team, so instead of doing that I gave them the bigger context and explained why we had to wait.
Looked from outside, his point of view was clear and concise while mine was vaguer. General perception would simply be: he is right and I am not, so what to do? I wouldn’t lie so instead, I went back to the Corporate “safe haven”. If I had presented a lie, all of us would have known it was one and felt bad about it. What I did instead was present a different approach, one I knew was not opposed to the one being presented to me but it was still wrong. It worked because it operated on a simple and powerful truth: being right or being wrong didn’t make things better.
Here’s the thing: sometimes being wrong can be acceptable as long as it leads to being right. Lie about it, and you’ll never get it. What you want to do when you’re wrong is not defend your position but rather show it can still lead to one that’s right. It will show that you are open, available, reachable and humble.
Just don’t try being right about being wrong.
It works the same way when you’re right: if you’re too stubborn about it, the truth will remain as hidden as if it was a lie. People will walk away from you, unwilling to follow someone who will do anything just to prove he or she is right.
Being right doesn’t make you a righteous person, as much as being wrong doesn’t make you a villain. Remember that.
Also published on Medium.