I would be the first to confess that It feels good to be right. We show our superiority over someone, we raise our social status with other people, and we generally feel good that our brain and knowledge had the chance to be seen and heard. When we are right and we know it, it’s just such an ego trip.
But how does it feel to be on the other side of the right/wrong equation?
You probably know those people that are always right. They know all the facts about everything and are proud of that. Part of the way they show they have knowledge is by correcting other people on smallest mistakes or errors that they make. You might have even experienced that yourself. Being corrected by someone who always has the answer.
When we choose to be right by proving someone else is wrong, we might pat our ego, but we don’t feel good, and we stifle the relationship with the other person and cause it to shrink. It might be a small thing and almost unnoticeable, but if we prove someone wrong continuously, this adds up and can cause resentment and aggressiveness in the relationship.
I know the term “feeling good” is abstract. “What is good anyway?” you might ask. Excellent question. I knew you were smart. “Good” means different things to different people. Each one feels “good” by experiencing and doing different stuff. What makes you feel good? Family? friends? hanging out? Whatever it is, this type of “good” is not what I’m talking about.
The “good” feeling I’m talking about is the wholesome feeling you feel when you are aligned with your true self. I’m talking about those rare moments when you feel inside that everything is okay in the world. There’s a warm feeling in your belly and comfort and serenity feels your body. That’s the “good” I’m talking about.
This type of “good” is important since it determines to a large degree our well-being. The more we feel this type of “good” the more we are expressing ourselves and the better our life is. This type of good happens when our values are expressed in some way. When we give from within ourselves to the world and to someone else.
Don’t say I didn’t tell you so
Most people would rather be right than feel good. Even if being right comes with the cost of hurting or insulting someone, or even if it’s just a minor annoyance.
Saying “I told you so” is the perfect example of this. When someone says I told you so (or any of its variations) the statement usually holds in it the pat on the ego that the person is craving for. It says I was right, and you were wrong. What this statement serves is to satisfy the ego of the one saying it. The motives behind it are not those that are meant to help the other person, they don’t add anything helpful to the conversation or any value to any of the participants.
Another example of the preference of being right than to feel good is to criticize or explicitly pointing out someone’s mistake that was already been made, without offering a way to correct that mistake. The mistake has already been made, the person is more than likely aware that he had done a mistake, so simply pointing it out has no real value besides making that person lose face.
In Hebrew, there is a saying that translates to “you don’t cry over spilled milk”. which
loosely means, the mistake has already been made, it’s not possible to do anything about it so there is no need to suffer twice by fretting over it.
In his book “How to win friends and influence people” Dale Carnegie tells a story that happened to him which taught him a valuable lesson. Carnegie was invited to a festive dinner party and was seated at a table. The man seated next to him told a story that hinged on the quotation “Ther’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will“. That man said that this quote is from the Bible, while Carnegie knew it was a mistake and that in fact the quotation is taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As Carnegie was the argumentative fellow back then, he decided to point out the mistake in front of all of the other people seated at the table.
This of course only made the other person barricade in his position that the quote is taken from the Bible. Unwilling to reach an agreement, Carnegie and the other person decided to ask the question of one of Carnegie’s friends named Frank, which also sat at the table and devoted years of study to Shakespeare’s art.
So they asked Frank where is the quote from and Frank kicked Carnegie under the table and said it was indeed from the Bible. Later that evening when Carnegie asked Frank why he has taken the other person’s side knowing it was a mistake Frank replied “Why prove to a man that he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? Always avoid the acute angle”
Why it’s better to feel good than to be right
Carnegie’s story describes the benefits of not being righteous, and not imposing our own opinion on others, as correct as it may be. To be more clear here are some other benefits that you get to experience when you don’t constantly correct people for their mistakes:
- You feel better – Yep. All though it feels good to be right, it actually feels better (i.e being aligned with our values – see above) to have kept the relationship with the other person in harmony. I’m not saying that correcting someone will instantly change or destroy a relationship but correcting someone (when done incorrectly) puts a thorn in it. With enough thorns, the relationship becomes, well, thorny.
- When you opt in to accept other people’s mistakes rather than constantly correcting them, you are becoming more likable. People will feel comfortable next to you and will enjoy spending time with you without feeling they are being judged. If you want more friends, be more accepting.
- When you aren’t constantly watching for other people’s mistakes and misdeeds, it gives time and leisure during the conversation to really listen to what they say. This opens up a totally new dimension of understanding and connection with that person, which accidentally leads to point number 4
- Listening to other people instead of looking for their faults makes us understand what the person is actually saying, and what he really means, which in many cases, is not what his words are conveying. It also usually turns out to be different than what we originally thought he is going to say.
How to correctly point out a mistake
There will be times, however, that yes, pointing out someone mistake or criticizing will be necessary. Correcting someone is not in itself bad, it just that most people use it as a blunt instrument rather than as the guidance its supposed to be. So if you find yourself that you need to correct a mistake give the below guidelines a try and see for yourself if there is a difference in results than simply pointing out the mistake.
- Start with a positive – Correcting someone hurts their ego. It’s not fun, and to soften the “blow” it’s better to start with something positive to say about the thing that is being corrected. For example: “Dan, Your report was excellent. The numbers are really solid and make perfect sense. I have seen you present better on previous reports and on slide number 4 there was an error regarding the project’s earnings, so that could be looked at.”
- Mention that you are yourself might be mistaken – We are all human. We all make mistakes. It might be that all though we spotted someone’s mistake it’s not really a mistake. Pointing that out shows that we are not correcting the other person because we want to feel superior, but because we honestly want to help.
- Create solidarity – Solidarity never fails. Once the other person feels that you are in the same boat as him, he will look at things from a different point of view. For example saying “I used to do the same mistake myself” shows that you want to help, and not prove the other person wrong. Make sure to use this when it’s true. Don’t say you experienced that mistake if you haven’t. People know when someone is insincere or fake.
So as we end the post I welcome you to try not correcting people on their mistakes. Most of the time they know they are wrong, so there is no need to rub it in or pronounce that explicitly. If they don’t know they are wrong, and you want to correct some behavior that caused the mistake, try following the above guidelines and see how far it gets you.
The practical principle to take from this post is to resist your urge of correcting people by bluntly saying “I told you so”. Let go of the need to be right. Take a chance on feeling good with the other person rather than proving him wrong.