Are you always right? Can you come out on top in any argument, ace any debate, and sway any opinion? Does being proven wrong leave you red in the face, and cause you to feel ill at ease for the rest of the day? Although your persistence and single-mindedness probably come in handy much of the time, taking this mindset too far just might be harmful to your relationships, stress level, and overall sense of peace.
Admitting defeat may feel unsettling at first, but learning to do so graciously may change your life. We often don’t notice the weightiness that the burden of needing to be right carries with it. Letting it go just might make you feel lighter, closer to others, and more in tune with the world around you.
For some, the need to win an argument is a game, and they find the challenge and sense of competition stimulating. Most of us have enjoyed a friendly debate at some point – my brother-in-law, a successful lawyer, thrives on them. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the mental challenge that can occur when we try to reconcile different opinions. We might even learn something about ourselves and our debate partner and end the exchange feeling closer to them.
However, for others, these arguments can become a contest of dominance. It is this approach that can be dangerous to your relationships and peace of mind. The difference between this mindset and the previous one is subtle, but important. The need to be right becomes problematic when it is contingent on the other person admitting defeat, and feeling defeated. Because this line is so easily crossed, we need to be careful to keep our compulsion to be right in check whenever possible.
The most beneficial way to do this is to accept the other person’s point of view. This is not the same as admitting that you are wrong – it is simply the act of validating and learning from the other person’s perspective. This demonstrates not only open-mindedness, but also self-confidence, intelligence, and compassion. Although this is a difficult skill to master, it can greatly heal any damage done should the argument become contentious.
Here are some tips to help you become more relaxed in your approach to your next argument:
1. Take baby steps.
If you are an “always right” type, there’s a good chance that you have held this mindset for a long time. Long-held habits are hard to change, especially for someone with a stubborn nature. Start by conceding small points, or simply telling your opponent that you understand why they feel the way they do. If even that seems too much, let them know that you had never considered that position and thank them for their input. Unless their opinion is truly offensive, you can likely learn something from their point of view.
2. Don’t try to change people.
Many people (perhaps yourself included) are just never going to let go of their long-held beliefs. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your argument, or how reliable your facts. Learn to recognize when this is the case, and move on. There is no sense in frustrating yourself trying to convince someone to abandon a position that is deeply ingrained in their heart.
3. Ask yourself: Would I rather be right or be kind?
As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In ten years, or even in ten minutes, what will the other person remember about your interaction? Chances are, they will forget how ingenious you were and how deftly you laid out your points. They’ll only remember feeling uncomfortable and small.
4. Concede where you can.
Most viewpoints, even if they seem profoundly wrong, have some sort of factual basis. Look for the smaller parts of your friend’s argument that you find reasonable, and present those as common ground. For example, although you may believe that a flat-tax system is unfair to the poor and harmful to our society, you might concede that your Republican friend’s tax contribution is indeed hefty and problematic.
5. Separate your opinion from your sense of self.
Realize that changing your viewpoint does not mean that anything fundamental about you changes with it. Being proven factually wrong does not mean that you are wrong as a human being. Be kind to yourself, and forgive yourself for your imperfections. Forgive others for theirs, too.