Practise being wrong

When locked in debate it’s easy to dig in and entrench our position. This is my position, if I explain it enough to you then you’ll come round to it. Giving up my position is to lose face.

However, that’s not healthy. Particularly in a work scenario, a debate is not (or at least, should not be) about point-scoring. It’s not about win or lose—we need to find the right answer, even if the right answer is not what we proposed.

But that’s difficult because, however objective we think we are, backing off from a position has an emotional cost. When we believe something we have some personal stake in it, so we cling on to it more than we probably should. Not only does that make debates rather longer, it makes them more difficult and confrontational.

Still, if we want to find the optimal resolution to a problem then it’s very likely we’ll have to move from our original position. We may not have to take the polar opposite view, but it’s likely will need to move to some greater or lesser degree.

Given all of that, it’s good to practise being wrong. This way the experience of shifting our position—perhaps signficantly—won’t be such an alien concept when it matters. One good way to start off is in low stakes situations; perhaps there is an issue that we don’t care much about, but have an opinion. If we go in with the idea that we will be persuaded differently then it’s not so bad when we do so. In fact, it’s actually a hidden success—we said we’d change our mind, and we did. And then we can build that up.

I’ve also found it also helps to keep in mind that I want the best outcome, and that I’m happy for other people to get the credit. I know, when they do get the credit, that I helped towards that, and collectively we are better off. This has become so acceptable to me that I’ve actually got the point where I quite like being wrong—it means I’ve learned something.

It’s true that being right is nice, but getting to the right answer is better.

Photo by Chris Glein