There’s not much we like about being wrong.   And unfortunately, it’s human nature that once we’ve taken a position, we would rather stick to our guns than admit we could be wrong (even to ourselves).

Think about a heated meeting you’ve been in recently.  Did you try to defend your point of view, but feel that you were losing the argument?  You might have felt frustrated and that others didn’t (or were even refusing to) understand you.  Your voice may have got louder, you wanted to shut down others’ comments, you started talking over and correcting people, or you went over and over the details to prove your point.

Do you have some ideas you won’t let go of or are clinging to, no matter what?  Are you continuing to do something that you know in your heart of hearts isn’t producing the results, but you keep doing it because you don’t want to admit to failure?

Rationally, we appreciate that we all make mistakes (and it’s a good way to learn), and sometimes things change over time and we have to change with them.

But when we’re in that meeting, our instinctive brain may be taking over – the shame and loss of power associated with being wrong shuts down our ability to strategise, build trust and show compassion.  We default to one of four responses:  Fight (keep arguing the point), Flight (just agree with the group decision), Freeze (keep quiet and disengage from the discussion) or Appease (agree with your challenger).

But there’s an added complication with us humans!  When we win, our brain floods with adrenalin (ready to fight – which makes us feel dominant/unbeatable) and dopamine (which makes us feel good/rewarded).  And because we like those feelings, we want to repeat them, so we fight to be right and win again!

There’s a risk that we could become addicted to being right, and not take notice of information that might mean we should admit a mistake or change direction.

Added to this is our tendency towards certain cognitive biases. There’s Confirmation Bias (where we look for information/statistics that supports our existing beliefs, rejecting data that goes against what we believe, and not factoring in all of the relevant information). Also, Loss Aversion and Sunk Cost (we don’t like losing and we are reluctant to walk away from something we’ve put time and effort into).

So, how can we get better results from ourselves:

  • Look for ways to challenge what you think, see or are being told.
  • Look for instances where you should be asking more questions.
  • Find information from a range of sources, and consider multiple perspectives.
  • Discuss your thoughts with a diverse group of people, and listen carefully to unusual views.
  • Find people and information that will challenge your opinions.
  • Learn to be comfortable with making mistakes – find the lessons and put them into practice the next time.

And from our meetings:

  • Provide psychological safety for all involved.
  • Effective listening – speak less and listen more
  • Create opportunities for everyone to speak – provide an agenda that people can prepare their thoughts before the meeting, ask open-ended questions, and be mindful of who could be dominating the conversation and who may not be getting an opportunity.
  • Be aware of the potential of group-think.

What we also don’t take into consideration is that when we feel the buzz of being right, someone else is paying the price of being wrong.  When we are getting the highs of feeling dominant and in control, someone is feeling unhappy about giving in.  Therefore, understanding the potential need to be right will help you to lead better meetings, with better communication and all the benefits that provides.

Contact us to find out how Executive Coaching can help develop leadership skills and an understanding of cognitive biases.

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