Thursday, May 21, 2009

Everyone hates a know-it-all, so give up your need to be right

by Richard L. Weaver II

I plead guilty; however, I also confess that I was unaware of the severity of the problem for much of my life. Why did I feel I needed to be right? There were a variety of reasons, of course, but I think the main one had to do with insecurity. Needing to be right validated my self worth and self confidence. It was never a deep-seated need, but it was clearly present, and I think it may have been encouraged by my teachers. Because I always excelled in school, I was depended upon by my teachers for doing things well, knowing the answers to questions and problems, and being a competent, dependable, responsible student. This, too, buttressed my self worth and self confidence. I thought that if I was right, I must be worthy.

The verbal clues given off by people who always need to be right are obvious when you’re around them. They always want the last word; no point is too small to fight over and win; they find it difficult, if not impossible, to apologize; they seldom if ever compromise; they consider it a sign of weakness to admit to being wrong; and they secretly believe that the three most beautiful words in the English language are, “You are right.” All of these are telltale signs.

The need to be right, of course, is a deep unmet need of our ego. It is our ego that stabilizes our self-image and reaffirms our self-deception. Our ego almost craves being right in order to secure more validation. By constantly being right, we receive the attention and approval we need to feel good about ourselves.

Giving in to being wrong, especially when you are in the habit of always being right, feels awful. Because being right is so closely tied in to our ego — the very core of our being — to admit being wrong threatens our survival.

It is easy to wonder what is wrong with always needing to be right? First, it means that you are judging and criticizing others to make them be wrong. Judging others says more about you than the person you are judging.

Second, always driven by the need to be right means you are driven by the need for control. You need others to be wrong so you can feel good about yourself. You are making yourself feel good at another’s expense.

The third thing wrong with having to always be right is that it allows you to exult in separation and superiority. The more you are right, the more likely you will stand both separate and superior to those in the wrong. It may feel like it puts you on a pedestal — so you have a higher vantage point to look down upon all those who are wrong — but what it really does is set up walls and defenses against the possibility of feeling vulnerable.

There is a fourth thing wrong with having to always be right, and that has to do with how this characteristic is perceived by others. Anyone who gets involved with you is likely to associate you with qualities such as intolerance, bullying, arrogance, boredom, argumentativeness, and sometimes, utter exhaustion.

For leaders, the fear of being wrong can make it extremely difficult to tolerate members of their own management team who challenge their ideas or conclusions. Over time, dissenting voices become quiet, and the management team becomes nothing more than a rubber stamp for the leader’s thinking. The creativity and imagination of the team is lost. Leaders who need to be right tend to dominate discussions and attempt to control the thinking of others, rather than see others as resources who can expand their understanding of issues and opportunities.

I remember when the transition occurred for me. That is, I remember when I was able to evolve from the fear of being wrong. It was about midway through my college career as a student. It was when I discovered that who I was — my very essence — felt right. It had less to do with facts or knowledge, although they contributed. It was based on what I felt to be the truth about my own intrinsic value and existence. My life, I suspected, was neither more nor less than the value of anyone else’s. If I was wrong about that, so what? When I was wrong, it was still all right, but I had to grow into that level of mature awareness.

Now, it should be clear that there is a big difference between being right and being righteous. Being righteous is all about ego. That is when you think you have a monopoly on “right.” When you are self-righteous you not only know you have all the answers, but anyone who does not believe as you do is wrong. Righteous folks are frightened folks. Often they were raised on fear-based ideas put forth by otherwise well-meaning parents and institutions. They are wrapped up in their own world. Whenever you feel the need to express righteousness, know that it’s your ego rearing its ugly head.

To become a person who does not possess this need to be right requires a great deal of self-awareness. Self-awareness? Yes, because you must observe and catch yourself in the act of being adamant and inflexible. If you are willing to own this behavior — “It’s me; I am being inflexible”—and then forgive yourself for doing it — “I’m sorry; I won’t let it happen again”—this has the potential to raise you to a higher level of consciousness. By breaking into your rigidity, you will increase your personal power. Instead of having power over others, you will develop power over yourself. That is the essence of self-esteem.

Self-awareness? Yes, because if you don’t break the pattern, nobody can do it for you. You have to want to give up being in control. Stop and ask yourself, “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?” “Do I want to get my way, or do I want to feel closeness with others?”

The beauty of such a dramatic change can be seen immediately. Others will feel more comfortable in approaching you to talk; you will no longer react to others with defensiveness and anger; you will relinquish self-centeredness and look, instead, to the needs of those around you; you will develop intimacy and connectedness; you will begin to take responsibility for your part in conflicts, and you will view conflict as an opportunity for growth; life will become more exciting because your choices and alternatives will increase, and there will be more adventures in your life; you will have more energy to spend on things that are really important; and you will develop skills for safely expressing your anger, resolving your frustrations; and managing your conflicts.

Everyone hates a know-it-all, so give up your need to be right.
“How to let go of the need to be right,” an essay by Debbie Mandel, at the web site, Health & Beyond, asks readers to give up their need to be right, and Mandel offers 8 specific suggestions to help let go of the absolute truth.

Lora J. Adrianse, in her short essay, “Let go of the need to be right!,” explains how to recognize the need to be right and offers a six-point challenge to correct the problem.
Copyright May, 2009 - And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.


  1. You're wrong. There. I feel much better about myself.

  2. Maximillion Ryan IIIJune 5, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    No jimmylee, you are wrong and I feel great about myself!


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