When the need to be right overshadows doing the right thing.
I have been a working person for about 25 years. When you get into the workplace, whether you think so or not, you really don’t know much. In my first job out of college, my dad gave me some good advice, “If you keep your mouth shut and listen, you might just learn something.” Coming from a man that had a pretty successful career, I listened to him.
I worked in customer support for a software company and it was important to listen and be “right” about my answers because the customer on the other end of the line was depending on me to help to get his or her job done. Sometimes though, I had to tell the customer, “I am sorry, I don’t know the answer to that, I’ll have to figure it out and call you back.” This was the right thing to do for the company. Why? Because whenever I talked to customers, they felt like they would get the right answer they needed to get their work done, even though it may not have been as quickly as they had hoped. This approach gave myself and my company credibility, it enabled customers to trust the organization and led to a good reputation and hence, an overall increase in sales.
I didn’t have to think much about it. My Dad was right. I know I don’t know everything and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Listening enabled trust. My experiences in the world are just a handful when compared to those of others I have worked with in the past as well as now. One thing that makes a team great is the fact that other people have had other experiences that can be shared to make the final result of what you are trying to accomplish all that much better.
So that is the big question, what are you trying to accomplish? Too many times we forget to ask ourselves what it is we are trying to make happen? It is easy to say that “we are trying to generate sales,” but is that the overall objective? This can vary depending on the company, what stage it is at, and other factors that are dependent on where the company is along its journey.
Fast forward to today. Listening and trust are still crucial pieces of my journey, but sometimes I get the feeling that the dynamic of sharing and collaboration has changed..
It now seems like everyone has mastered components of everyone else's job to some degree or another, and has all the answers about what the “right” thing to do is. It's funny, I don't know if it's a product of people becoming increasingly more set in their ways as they gain more experience? Have people developed more fragile egos? Is this behavior rooted in fear or insecurity? Is it because today our culture enables anyone to get on their Twitter soapbox and proclaim themselves right? I don't know.
I started to ask myself, do I think I have all the answers? Do I know how to do everyone else’s job? I started to think things people were telling me were the ‘right things to do’. Did they make sense? Am I getting dumber as I get older? Have we forgotten to listen and trust in our quest to be right?
It seems many people have this need to be “right” all the time and I don’t know why. There are many times when there is no “right” answer at all and there are certainly times when there is more than one “right” answer. But people want to, even seem to thrive on, arguing the rightness of their point of view, often at the expense of trust and teamwork and the overall goal. The consequence of this is that it dulls others initiative, it takes people off-goal, and it makes people afraid to take risks, which, in turn, keeps people from furthering developing their skills.
Personally, I trust my colleagues to do their jobs and to do them to the best of their abilities (as they were probably hired because they were pretty great at what they do). I feel they have the best intentions and a desire to do what is best for the company. That is how I approach everything. I believe that most people want to work in a trusting environment, right? I mean, am I crazy? I also believe people understand and share common goals through listening to what they are, how else would people know what the company was doing. Isn’t there tremendous upside for the business (thru the people) in a trusting work environment?
It really impacts the flow and creativity of a workplace when people are governed by the need to be right and forget the overall objective. I am not saying that everyone should make their own decisions in a vacuum, but when EVERY conversation becomes combative and a struggle to just be right (sometimes at the expense of the bigger picture), then people stop wanting to collaborate and productivity goes right to zero real quickly. I started to think about the harm this type of behavior can have on a company. This need to be right comes at a cost. So the next time I feel the urge to indulge in the satisfaction of being right for it’s own sake, I plan to take a step back, think of my father’s advice, and really ask myself if I’m doing the right thing instead of just wanting to be right. Am I supporting the overall goal or working against it? Am I building trust or breaking it? About taking this more thoughtful approach, I’m pretty sure I’m right.