Pressure Points: Stress and Your Addiction To Being Right
Challenging yourself to resist the temptation to always be right, however admirable, is an arduous endeavor indeed. The sharper perspective and genuine curiosity necessary for such a task require introspection and unquestionable effort, but offer remarkable payoffs in your life and career. In my recent article All The Answers: Releasing Your Addiction To Being Right, I illustrated how self-awareness, which is tricky to embody, is essential to your transformation, ultimately revealing to you a fascinating and gratifying world where being right is not where the power lies.
In that article, I raised a handful of questions to ask yourself and gauge where you lie on the “addicted to being right spectrum”. Many workplace stressors, both modern and ancestral, contribute to this addiction, so it’s essential to understand the origins for you. Let’s look at a few of those questions in greater detail, with some real case studies to lend some valuable perspective.
Do you put pressure on yourself to walk into situations with all the answers because of your title?
The “I’ve got a reputation, here” attitude often accompanies the newly promoted professional, due to heavy responsibility and a dose of the impostor syndrome. My client Lynn (not her real name) was feeling the responsibility of having been promoted to partner at a law firm and getting ready to meet with an important, newer client. Her anxiety was obvious when she and I met. Remember, the promotion was BRAND NEW and she didn’t even have business cards yet. What would happen, she thought, if they asked her a question she didn’t know the answer to?
We dug into the emotions first, uncovering that in her less seasoned past, with a deep desire to “add value”, Lynn would make a suggestion and push hard, only to realize later (or be told on the spot) that her idea wasn’t appropriate for the client. She had lost face more than once, and now as a partner, she knew she was expected to have all the answers.
When Lynn was able to articulate this root of her anxiety, we strategized effectively for her meeting, concluding that asking a good question is more revealing than coming up with “the answer”. And as an introvert who thinks to speak rather than speaking to think, she’s skilled at listening. Combining this with her industry experience, her mission now was to stay in the “curious zone”, where she would naturally have good questions to ask.
Have you ever found yourself absolutely certain of an answer or path ahead, only to find out that you were totally off-base?
Here’s a fable that serves as an appropriate lesson in perception:
US Warship: Please divert your course 0.5 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
CND reply: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
US Warship: This is the Captain of a US Navy Ship. I say again, divert your course.
CND reply: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course!
US Warship: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS CORAL SEA*, WE ARE A LARGE WARSHIP OF THE US NAVY. DIVERT YOUR COURSE NOW!!
CND reply: This is a lighthouse. Your call.
It’s important to perpetually pull back for perspective. One’s reality isn’t always the truth, and paradigm shifts happen in a flash. You may be able to divert your ship from crashing into the lighthouse of being right by asking yourself some questions that help you zoom out and gain perspective. We so quickly climb up a ladder of conclusions, especially when stress is involved, and we become certain of our own reality. Posing hypothetical questions like, “What if the opposite were true?” or “If we started backwards how would this look?”, allows the prefrontal cortex to re-engage and keep us off that ladder to miscommunication.
In today’s contentious political climate, do you quickly judge someone negatively for being of the opposite political persuasion?
If you become turned off or even argumentative when you discover someone is of a different political party, I have some excellent feedback for you. I recently sat down with New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef to discover how a politician reconciles such differences. She recounted connecting with a constituent of the opposite party at the ultimate suburban family event: a summer church fair. Instead of pushing her agenda, Sandy believes in the “walk around method” to probe a bit and understand what people are feeling— including folks of the opposite party.
As Sandy sat down at a picnic table to have a bite, she exchanged greetings with a couple at the table who weren’t aware of who she was. The man asked if Sandy was a Republican. When she said no, he identified himself as a Republican who was fond of the President. Rather than highlighting her political disagreements with the President to this gentleman, she asked him questions and then listened to connect and understand. “Is there anything the President has done to disappoint you?”
Such empathy is the differentiator. It’s the practical alternative to “being right”, and in Sandy’s case, made her better informed while also inspiring someone else to consider her ideas. In my follow-up article, I’ll explore the ways you can handle other folks who are addicted to being right.
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