The balance between being right and being effective

Photo by Christophe Hautier on Unsplash

This week, I’ve been reflecting on the idea of ‘being right’. After all, so much of what we do is based upon finding the correct answer.

But what does being right really mean?

For a long time, I saw being right as synonymous with the best way to do things. In my mind, once we reflected upon something for long enough, there was more or less a single answer that was correct. So this meant that such an answer would obviously be the best thing to do. For example, when in a workplace this meant that logically it would be the best course of action to follow.

Looking back, I’d say I was pretty naive. The idea that people are genuinely rational is a fundamental lack of understanding that i had. But I don’t blame myself. After all, this was how I was taught the world work. You work hard, you’ll get good grades. Get good grades, get a good diploma. Get a good diploma, get a good job. Get a good job, get a promotion. And so forth.

As a young budding graduate starting my career, I thought the best way to pull ahead was simply being better at finding the logical truth behind things. And to my own credit, I got pretty good at it. Yet despite really honing my skills at being as analytically effective as I could, I was surprised at how limited my impact was. It didn’t seem like people were often all that interested in hearing how things could be improved.

After some soul searching, I looked at seeing whether there was a better way of seeing the world.

One thing that has really helped me was to realise how narrow my view of logic was. I realised that In my own head, I could set fixed parameters which highlighted what was ‘correct’. I hadn’t quite realised how much loaded information I was putting that simply was not objective at all.

Opening my mind has been a way in which I can see different ways of looking at things. It allows me to realise that there is an inherent flaw in the idea that anything can be objectively ‘right’. I’ve found myself more open to new ideas and changing my mind than I had to previously. Broadly this has been for the better.

But opening my mind does not mean throwing away critical thinking. Many in the liberal, left-leaning space can become so preoccupied with incorporating the views of others that they forget that they have their own minds too. For me, this meant that I was foregoing my natural instinct to placate others. In a workplace setting, this can look like getting the agreement of the majority of the room, at the behest of the actual expert on the subject who knows what they are talking about.

Practically, this meant that in a workplace I was often dimming my knowledge and intuition because I would caveat everything with ‘well I could be wrong’. Whilst humility can be nice, it also was a gateway drug for no longer following my own brilliance.

There is a beautiful sweet spot. One where we can see our own truth, and understand our own instincts. We do not constantly question them, or shy away when they are telling us something that is uncomfortable to realise (for instance, the instinct to speak up when you can see something wrong happening in a meeting or an injustice on the street).

But we must also recognise that our own intellect has its limits. No matter how much we attain information, there is no possible way we will know everything. If anything, the opposite happens – the more we learn, the more we realise how little we truly know. It’s no wonder that the greatest gurus, experts and leaders often make this point.

This is where the balanced approach comes in. To lead, we need to be able to have a position. If we are not willing to put a flag in the sand somewhere, we will never really say anything of substance. But we must also understand that setting out such a view has potentials for error. So coming to our own conclusions does not mean that our views may later shift.

We are all guilty of seeing ourselves as more right than others. On a superficial level we may be willing to concede certain informational points (such as what time someone said the next bus was). But what most people do not see is that many of our moral stances and values are grounded within the same assumptions of being right compared to others.

In other words, we generally implicitly assume our moral positioning and judgement of what is right or wrong is the correct one compared to others. So when people do things outside of our own framework, we end up judging them. Perhaps we label them as being too loud, too much of a know it all, too soft, or too lazy.

What I have found is that the more I am open to different ways of looking at things, the more I am influential. Most arguments are not about ‘winning’, they are often about being heard. The ability to set a position and be open to challenge on it is extremely powerful. This is the case even if we do not end up necessarily shifting our view.

Ironically, people are more likely to listen to what I have to say when I’m not trying so hard to push it on them.

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