Why Some People Think They're Always Right & How To Deal With It
If you want to improve your relationships, sleep more, stress less, and just be happier, you only need one thing. You need to give up the compulsion to be right.
The psychology of needing to be right.
We are conditioned from birth, it seems, to fight for our piece of the pie, defend ourselves, or at least convince people that our views are "right." We do it with our families, at school, at work, and at social gatherings. If we're "proved wrong," we feel somehow lessened, defeated, or humiliated. In some cases, being proved wrong can upset our entire worldview, leaving us unanchored.
The problem is that we all come with the necessary equipment to fall into the "always be right" trap. Opinions are like bellybuttons. We all have them, so we have all the necessary ingredients to breed disagreement, conflict, and resentment.
Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle goes as far as to describe the need to be right as a form of violence. At its mildest, it is inflexibility. At its height, it manifests as dominance. The compulsion to inflict our opinions of the world on another originates in fear. Its opposites are humility and compassion. Even the golden rule tells us to treat others in a way we would like to be treated. If you just keep banging away at someone until they flinch and accept your point of view, you're probably not very happy with the state of your current relationships—or secretly need that validation to feel good about yourself.
How to stop needing to be right all the time:
1. Recognize that acceptance is not the same as weakness.
On the contrary, acknowledgment and acceptance of a differing worldview is a powerful act of understanding, self-confidence, and compassion. It's a sign of emotional maturity. The Hindu greeting "namaste" is the verbal embodiment of this perspective. It translates to, "I bow to you." It is "an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another." Within one word, we can find the foundation of peaceful coexistence and rich, lasting relationships. It embodies humanism, peace, and joy.
2. Start small.
You're not going to become the Dalai Lama in a day. In the next 24 hours, resolve to let one opinion that is contrary to yours exist without attempting to destroy it. You don't have to believe it. You don't have to give up your contrary opinion. Just say, "I understand what you're saying." Or "That's a perspective I hadn't considered." Or just listen and nod. Avoid getting defensive.
Of course, if you are confronted with a position that is inhumane or violent in nature, you can acknowledge that you disagree without mounting an assault against it.
3. Accept that you will never be able to change every opinion that you disagree with.
There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions that you'll never be able to change. Other positions contrary to yours will always exist, and a good chunk of them, if not "right," are at least logically defensible. Let the little ones go. You may state your differing opinion without attempting to force your opinion on others.
4. Prioritize kindness and compassion over feeling "right."
This is so much more important than converting the world to your very limited view. We all face challenges. We all suffer loss and pain. All of our opinions are informed by circumstance. Unless you've lived someone else's life, you can never fully understand why they believe what they do. Listening to the reasoning behind someone else's feelings can be revealing. It deepens your connection with that person and broadens your interpretation of the world around you.
5. Look for an opportunity to change your opinion.
In a situation where your opinion differs from another's, tell them you're open to accepting their view if they provide good rationale for it. It may not change your mind, but you can still respond that you understand their opinion without accepting their view as your own.
6. Acknowledge that changing your opinion, or allowing someone else to prove you wrong, doesn't make you any less you.
You are a unique miracle of existence. You will make mistakes and succeed, help and hurt others, be right and be wrong. But you are still OK. You are still you. Compassion for others is a product of compassion for yourself. Start there. It only gets better.
Roger Landry, M.D., MPH, is a preventative medicine physician and author of Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging. He received his M.D. at Tufts University and his master's degree in Public Health at Harvard University. His book Live Long, Die Short has been endorsed by AARP, and his work on aging has been featured nationally and internationally on radio and TV with NBC, FOX News, ABC, CBS, BBC, and elsewhere.
Landry is the president of Masterpiece Living, a group of multi-discipline specialists in aging who partner with communities to assist them in becoming destinations for continued growth. He has spent over a decade smashing stereotypes of aging and redefining the possibilities of older adulthood.
He is also a retired, highly-decorated full colonel and former chief flight surgeon at the Air Force Surgeon General’s Office in Washington.