Shortly after sending out my monthly e-zine a few years back, I received an email from one of my subscribers, an executive assistant.
“You are completely professional, articulate, and obviously a very intelligent speaker. So, when I read you’re most recent e-zine, I wondered if it was a test for us to see if we could find all the errors – grammatical as well as typographical. I was floored and hoped that maybe it just left you’re desk inadvertently with no proofreading. You are worthy of better!”
When I shared the email with my then teenagers, Daughter #1 said, “Too funny, she spelled your, you’re!”
Daughter #2’s response was more in line with what would have been my initial reaction a few decades ago: “Send it back to her with the typo highlighted and say, ‘Gee, looks like we have a lot in common.'”
I told both girls, “It’s not healthy to make someone feel less than in order to feel like more.”
This is not a lesson I learned easily, and one I continue to work on daily. The only reason to point out her error in this circumstance would have been to be right. And in being right at all costs, we end up alienating people, which is why I chose to reach out and graciously thanked her and encouraged her to bring the errors to my attention.
If the need to be right drives you, it’s often because it was modeled growing up. (My own parents, who shared sixty-four years of marriage together, have a high need to be right.) Or, perhaps when you made a mistake, you were made to feel less than, or you internalized that feeling all on your own. But if you want to cultivate connections with others, both in the workplace and in your personal life, I encourage you to take a different approach. As Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
How to speak your truth in these moments? Here are ways to tactfully share information without coming across as a know-it-all or belittling someone. I’ll use workplace examples from municipal clerks I interviewed, whose years of service often span multiple mayors. The clerks’ knowledge of laws and regulations is invaluable and often surpasses that of the mayor.
1. Awareness: When a mayor proposed instituting a new policy that the clerk knew was illegal, rather than pointing a finger and humiliating him, the clerk said, “Are you aware that the statute requires (x, y, z)?” In your own life, when you hear someone impart information that you know to be wrong, try, “I was led to believe (x). How does that fit with your information?” Remember, your tone is important. You want to create a connection.
2. Advise: The municipal clerk then advised the mayor, “I know the direction you were trying to take. Here are some options you may want to consider.”
3. Ask: “Knowing what the statute says, and weighing these alternatives, how would you like to move forward?” The clerk’s phraseology allowed the mayor to make a well-informed decision.
In releasing your need to be right, what I’m not telling you to do is shut down and take the blame for someone else’s mistake. If that’s the case, then you need to stand in your truth and explain the circumstances. I’m referring to those people – and we all know them – who feel the need to correct another in the name of simply being right.
All of us want to be recognized, rewarded and heard for what we bring to the table. However, there are times to take a mature approach and choose to keep quiet. If you find you’re still compelled to be right, perhaps it’s time to look for other ways to get the recognition and kudos you’re craving.