Would You Rather be Right, or Would You Rather be in Relationship?
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Today we’re diving into a topic that is near and dear to my heart: being right. Just ask my parents, my partner, or anyone who’s ever gotten into a passionate conversation with me, asserting an opinion that’s different than mine. I find it highly gratifying to prove I am right, and can find evidence to argue for just about any point I feel compelled to make. Sometimes I wonder if I missed my calling as a defense attorney.
The question we are here to explore today is: Would you rather be right, or would you rather be in relationship?
Because rarely can you be both at the same time. What I mean by that is that when you choose a posture of “I’m right,” by nature, it means you’re making the other person wrong. And when you are in righteousness, connection, trust, and intimacy are severed. You can be right, or you can be in relationship.
This dynamic shows up everywhere: from the boardroom to the bedroom. Today, we’re going to talk about how and why this happens, and what to do instead, when our commitment to connection outweighs our commitment to being right.
If you identify as a current or recovering “good girl,” you have probably had your fair share of having your experiences doubted or minimized by individuals or culture. So just to be clear, the message I’m inviting you to consider today is NOT in line with some message you may have received to sit down and be quiet. Nope. We need you to continue to use your voice. We need you to continue screaming to the tops of your lungs for women’s reproductive rights and gender equality and black lives and all of the areas that require our continued insistence.
This is also not about tolerating abusive relationships or toxic patterns. Period. Full stop.
What is IS about, is knowing who you are, and what you hold as true and right for YOU, AND increasing your own tolerance for co-creation and growth. It’s about you being in connected, mutually respectful relationships with people that you love, and people with whom it’s important for you to continue to be in relationship with, such as whomever employs you, for instance.
Some of you have family members or friends you haven’t spoken to in 15 years because one of both of you is more committed to being right than to being in relationship with each other. So what this is about, is having you be in relationships with people you want to be in relationship with, where you trust each other to have your own experiences and perspectives and nobody has to make the other person wrong about theirs.
Well, there may be all kinds of reasons. They might include feeling there’s something we need to prove. Being told you were wrong for much of your life, so as a grown ass adult, deciding you’ll be damned if you’re going to be made wrong. A belief that being right is superior, being wrong is inferior, and so we race to make ourselves right. Power and dominance. And here’s a big one: Shame, and avoiding shame.
Insistence on being right, is essentially a commitment to being defensive.
My colleague Kacey Cardin and I co-facilitate a coaching group for women, and one of the topics we discuss is power, and generating power within ourselves, versus power over other people. Kacey says: “show me what you have to be right about, and I’ll show you where you give your power away.” Ironic, because often when we are insistent on being “right,” we’re essentially trying to assert our own power over someone else. Probably not intentionally, because you are not an asshole, dear listener, but inadvendently. Think of a time when you were in a conversation with someone and were being righteous about something. What was your tone of voice? What was your facial expression? What was your posture? Might the other person or an objective observer have gotten the impression that you were, in Brene Brown’s words, armoring up? As in- armoring up for battle? Building a wall, defending yourself, or even at times, coming in hot on the offense? Were you physiologically and/or emotionally triggered, and in survival mode?
Sometimes, when we’re being right or righteous, there is a desire to “be understood.” Yet, defending, justifying, proving, interrupting, presenting evidence, denying the validity of someone else’s experience, are rarely access points for being understood. If our actual desire is to be understood, we actually have to start with seeking to understand others. It’s terrible, I KNOW, but understanding creates understanding. Defending how right we are, does not.
So if we’re going to give up our commitment to being right at all costs, what will we commit to instead? Some alternate commitments for your consideration: curiosity. Openness to growing. Holding opinions without attachment to defending them or convincing others. Leadership through connection.
You can be deeply grounded in what is true for you, without necessarily having to make the other person wrong.
First example: you are a tenured leader in your organization. You know alot of stuff. A newly hired member of the leadership team has a perspective on how to accomplish a project that differs from your own philosophy. What do you do? Option A: shut them down, explaining how your perspective is the only way, based on how the company has always done things in the past. Participate in talking behind their back to others in a way that undermines their expertise. Create charts and spreadsheets and lists that prove that your idea is better, without ever actually considering the alternate perspective of your colleague. Option B: feel challenged at first, yet because you are committed to curiosity and co-creation, and don’t feel like you have to posture or prove anything, you choose to hear your colleague out. You learn some new ideas that can support the team in creating a successful outcome. The team opts to co-create a strategy that honors the foundations of previous experience, while also allowing for innovation and possibility, ultimately generating an outcome that exponentially exceeds expectations.
Example number two. You make a mistake at work that is going to cost the company alot of money. What do you do? Option A: immediately go into a shame spiral and get scared and look for someone else to blame. Insist that you didn’t have enough support from the other teams in your org, and therefore it’s not your fault. Challenge anyone who suggests otherwise. Option B: upon recognizing your mistake, immediately go to your leadership team and take responsibility for what happened. Not necessarily from a stance of “I’m wrong, you’re right,”, because that’s just the same thing in reverse, but from ownership, the facts of what happened, and what you see to remediate your mistake, and improve upon the systems that may have created a gap in support. Your colleagues appreciate your honesty, and your suggestions for systemic improvements ultimately leave the company better.
Second example: your partner expresses feeling left out of your life lately. They express a desire for more intentionally created time together. What do you do? Option A (and I am not AT ALL SPEAKING from personal experience here): feel put upon and explain all the reasons you don’t have any extra time to spend with them: your work schedule, board meetings, happy hours with clients, whatever. You leave the conversation ticked off (how dare they! Don’t they know how hard you work?”), and your partner leave disappointed and feeling rejected and unheard. Option B: you express your appreciation for your partner letting you know how they are feeling, and that they desire more connection. Co-create opportunities for more mutually fulfilling connection that also honor your other commitments. Everyone leaves feeling appreciated and heard, with their needs met.
Here’s what I hope that you heard in those examples: that you always have a choose. Like- why would any of us choose any of those Options A? Yet we do. We forget we have other options, or are so entrenched in our own patterns that we feel paralyzed to choose another option. And listen: none of this is easy. Breaking up long held and even lifetime patterns is not a piece of cake. Yet when the outcome is connection, mutual respect, intimacy, and trust? It’s well worth the challenge.