Your brain has a natural compulsion “to be right”. When you follow this need without awareness, it can sidetrack your life, cause stress and anxiety, and decrease your happiness.
WHY DOES YOUR BRAIN NEED TO BE RIGHT?
To your brain, if you’re not right, you’re wrong. To be wrong is a threat. Being wrong can cause a person to feel fear, stress, or distrust which activates the brain’s amygdala, your brain’s alarm, and fight-or-flight response. When this happens, the neurotransmitter cortisol floods your brain. The frontal lobe, controlling the higher-level functions that help us be civilized, like empathy, trust-building, and compassion, shuts down.
If your brain judges the threat big enough, the amygdala takes control. Then, your body makes a chemical choice about how to protect itself. Instinctually, your brain is going to try to avoid any humiliation, embarrassment, or loss of power that might come with being wrong. As a result, your brain will default to one of the four reactions to the fear response:
- fight (keep arguing the point)
- flight (revert to, seek support in group consensus)
- freeze (disengage from the argument), or
- fawn (make nice with the opposition by agreeing).
YOUR REALITY IS BOTH SUBJECTIVE AND OBJECTIVE
We all live in our own world which is our individual brain’s unique interpretation of the input it receives. There is no single, uniform reality that is consistent among all of us. Reality depends on what actually happens (objective) and how our brains make sense of what happens (subjective). Both are necessary components of reality, and reality is a subjective concept unique to each of us.
Each of us experiences the world uniquely influenced by our physical brain function, past memories, and experiences, in addition to our present circumstances. People see what they expect to see and remember what they expect to remember because of something called perceptual bias.
WHAT IS RIGHT DEPENDS ON YOUR REALITY
Given the above information, I have a hard time understanding how anyone can tell others what they should believe or what is right. We don’t even have the same realities. “Right” is whatever is right for that individual based on their unique brain. Of course, to live in a civilized society, we have laws that are “right”, but they are really just beliefs upon which a majority agree. This is why laws vary in different cultures.
The need to be right denotes inflexible and limited thinking. Taking a position of being right assumes superiority and judges the other person. For you to be right, someone has to be wrong. Needing to be right is an invitation for conflict and misuse of energy. The effort a person has to expend to prove their “right-ness” could be put to more beneficial use.
GIVING UP THE NEED TO BE RIGHT
Giving up the need to be right and being open-minded can lead to a happier, more peaceful life and allow opportunities for growth and learning. Not needing to be right can make you more humble and a better listener. An individual who doesn’t have any identity or value invested in being right can live life not being afraid to make mistakes and laugh more easily at themselves.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
Set rules of engagement. If you’re heading into a meeting that could get testy, start by outlining rules of engagement. Have everyone suggest ways to make it a productive, inclusive conversation and write the ideas down for everyone to see. These practices will counteract the tendency to fall into harmful conversational patterns. Afterward, consider seeing how you and the group did and seek to do even better next time.
Listen with empathy. In one-on-one conversations, make a conscious effort to speak less and listen more. The more you learn about other peoples’ perspectives, the more likely you are to feel empathy for them. And when you do that for others, they’ll want to do it for you.
Plan who speaks. In situations when you know one person is likely to dominate a group, create an opportunity for everyone to speak. Ask all parties to identify who in the room has important information, perspectives, or ideas to share. List them and the areas they should speak about on a flip chart and use that as your agenda, opening the floor to different speakers, asking open-ended questions, and taking notes.
Connecting and bonding with others trumps conflict. I’ve found that even the best fighters – the proverbial smartest guys in the room – can break their addiction to being right by getting hooked on oxytocin-inducing behavior instead.