Give Up Being Right

One of the chief obstacles to overcoming resentment is giving up your insistence on being right. It’s a tough one. We’re conditioned to defend our views and positions. But letting someone else be right is the act of prioritizing your mission over your “rightness.”

I was once enlisted to help a large Texas-based oil conglomerate that needed its top executives in two particular divisions to work together more closely. Robin, who led all exploration and early production deals, and Chris, who led trading, shared many of the same customers, and it would enhance the customer experience if their efforts were better coordinated.

Unfortunately, Chris and Robin had never gotten along. In the few instances when they had to work together, they rarely saw eye-to-eye, and sometimes got into heated arguments at executive team meetings.

Chris was a successful executive who was making his numbers and thought his views on strategies and deals were always correct. Robin, who was also making her numbers, was sure she was always right. Neither tried to close the gap or see the other’s perspective.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I would get Chris and Robin to bridge their divide. I began by discussing how destructive silos can be to shareholder value; then I noticed someone was wearing a very sizable wedding ring (this was Texas, after all). I scanned all the ring fingers in the room and saw that everyone was married.

So, I stopped in midsentence and asked, “Does anyone here have a decent marriage?” At first, everyone looked puzzled, so I restated the question, and a few raised their hands, wondering what I was up to. Chris and Robin were among those with their hands up. “Congratulations,” I said. “You have all learned one of the greatest lessons in life: how to give up being right to get what you want.” A few people chuckled, and I continued: “Men and women in strong marriages know what a well-timed ‘yes, dear’ or ‘you’re totally right’ can do for the relationship and getting to a positive outcome.”

I pointed out that in the bigger picture, where there are real disagreements, being more agreeable can make room for a healthier dialogue. Saying something like, “I may not be right about this, sweetheart,” even when you don’t exactly feel that way at the moment, communicates that you care more about the other person and your relationship that you do about being right.

Drop the “sweetheart,” and you have a solution for the workplace as well.

“Where else is it time for you to give up being right?” I asked. “Are there any relationships here in the room where it’s time to give up being one hundred percent right?” I promised them I wouldn’t actually make them say, “I may not be right about this, sweetheart.” As I spoke, I saw that I was getting lots of smiles and nodding heads. I even took the opportunity to joke about the relationship between Chris and Robin, which got both of them laughing at themselves.

Chris and Robin were both good people. And they were proud executives who trusted their judgment. They just needed to be reminded that indulging their resentment or feelings of irritation toward each other wasn’t the path to being their best selves at work—or achieving better results for their organization.

I worked with the executives and their teams for several months. Whenever one or the other seemed to dig in their heels, I saw the other behaving markedly differently, in an attempt to preserve the peace and “give up being right.”

It is uncanny how quickly and easily people can drop feeling resentful. And when the resentment is gone, you’ll never hear anyone say they miss it. Why would they? Resentment leaves us blind and powerless; it’s been compared to drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. When you take a moment to look at any situation that’s making you resentful, you’ll realize that whatever you’re holding on to is mainly causing misery—for you.

Excerpted from Leading Without Authority by Keith Ferrazzi with Noel Weyrich. Copyright © 2020 by Keith Ferrazzi with Noel Weyrich. Excerpted by permission of Currency. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  • Keith Ferrazzi is a #1 NYT bestselling author, who wrote Never Eat Alone, Who’s Got Your Back, and most recently published Leading Without Authority. He’s an entrepreneur, Founder & Chairman of Ferrazzi Greenlight and a coach to some of the most prominent organizations in the world. He’s a thought leader and frequent contributor at publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, WSJ, and Fast Company. Recently, Keith has been at the forefront of remote team transitions since his published research in 2012-2015 appeared in Harvard Business Review.