How would you feel if you were always right? More importantly, how would you feel about someone who always made you feel right, someone that made you feel brilliant?
The thing is, not only can we do that, we need to do that. We have to let people be right. A lot. Pretty much always.
A Sinking Ship
I know you are thinking that’s a bad business practice, but it’s not what you think. Before we get into it, let’s think about how we typically handle a disagreement.
After all, it’s great when we can present a logical argument to win over logical people. Unfortunately we don’t deal with logical creatures; we deal with humans. Despite our best efforts, we tend to want to feel right rather than be right. Given a choice between the red-faced realization that we were wrong and finding out the truth, or feeling like we are right even if we have to be oblivious, we have a tendency to put our head in the sand and enjoy the latter.
I want you to think of a time where you stubbornly held a position well after you knew it was wrong. You had stated your position and then realized you were on the wrong side of the argument. You desperately wanted to save face and you were determined to go down with the ship.
That’s human nature. It comes from our fight or flight response. When someone challenges our position, our primitive reaction is to fight it. The only other option is to flee – which is why we just say “whatever” when we don’t passionately care about the position.
A Different Approach
So how do we keep people from fighting logic or giving up? By never challenging them to begin with.
Think about it like this: right and wrong are opposed; they are on opposite ends of the spectrum from each other. When you counter someone you are asking them to change direction, something we are always naturally disinclined to do.
If you’re driving down the highway at 80 miles an hour, you don’t just flip around magically. It takes a lot of effort. You have to slow down, find an exit, get off the highway, go under the overpass, get back on the other way, accelerate, all while avoiding other cars and obeying stop lights. Mentally, it’s very similar.
However, if you can align with that person and move in their direction, why would they not listen? They are already headed that way anyway.
A Few Simple Steps
At this point I’m sure you’re still thinking this won’t work, but let’s look at the three steps and I think it will become clearer:
- You have to respect the other person. If you don’t respect them, find out how you can. You have to remember that everyone has something to offer. Everyone has value. You need to realize that people that are passionate about a position are passionate! Passion is good. You don’t have to agree with their position, but you do have to respect them and their views.
- Understand their position. In order to understand why this person wants to approach things their way, you need to understand them a little better. You will most likely need to ask questions to understand that person better and why they want things the way they do. Sometimes a better understanding shines a light on things that better explain someone’s position. Maybe that person being short with the cashier had his first night alone after his wife left him. We all have stories that more clearly define who we are.
- You show the person they are right. We all love to be right. Tell them how they are right. This does not mean you agree with their position, it means you highlight the part of their position that is right. And there is always something they are right about. Even if their position is to do something you might consider ridiculous, you can praise them for their passion. “If everyone had passion like you, we would be so much better off. This project needs passion.” This has to be sincere. You have to really believe the words you are saying, which is why respect is so important. If you cannot muster respect or something to praise them for, take some time. You will be much more effective when you can.
- Show them how they can be more right. Simply put, don’t talk about what not to do, talk about what to do. Don’t tell them “do it this way or things will fail”, tell them “you will have even better results if you do it this way.”
Putting It Into Practice
Let’s look at an example. Tom and Sue were working on a project and Sue was being very hard-nosed about her position. She thought that Tom should be able to get things done in 3 weeks instead of 4. Tom knew that to do things appropriately it would take 4 weeks. Sue demanded that it be done in 3 weeks because the customers wanted something quickly.
In this case, Tom can flatly refuse to do 3 weeks. He could blow up with anger over Sue’s demands. Or he could cave knowing she could get an inferior product.
But the better thing to do would be to choose another option. The best approach would be first to 1) show respect for Sue. Tom needs to realize that Sue is not an obstacle he needs to overcome, but an ally that is also trying to create a fantastic result. Approaching Sue from a position of respect is key.
Next, Tom needs to 2) better understand Sue’s position. He needs to find out why Sue wants 3 weeks so badly. When he works to understand Sue, he understands that to her 3 weeks is about good customer service. The customer has asked for something quickly, and to her, 3 weeks is quick.
At this point, Tom should 3) tell her she’s right. She’s right to back the customer so strongly. She’s right to stick to her guns if she sees that to be the best option. He can go so far as to express how thankful he is that there is someone else on the team who understands how important it is to focus on the customer’s needs. This must all be truly sincere.
Finally, Tom should show Sue 4) how to make it better. She is wanting to please the customer after all. It’s a big deal to her. So she could improve their experience by giving the team one more week to fully test everything so it’s all smooth. That would make the final product cleaner and more polished. The extra time would give the customer a better product. And Tom can offer to talk with the customer with Sue to highlight how valuable this would be to them.
We Are More Alike Than Different
When we start thinking about how we can align with people instead of opposing them, we can see that most of us want the same things. We want to enjoy our jobs. We want to spend time with our loved ones. We want to please our customers. We want to do a job that makes a difference. The more we come from the perspective of understanding and cooperation, the more we can accomplish.
The next time you find someone opposing you, try this out. Respect their views and them as a person. Seek understanding of how they see things. Highlight how right they are. Then show them how they might even be more right. After all, doesn’t is seem like the right thing to do?