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street signDoes this ever happen to you: you have a minor misunderstanding about something simple, and it escalates into a major disagreement? It may be that you were even in agreement over the main point, but you began squabbling over some minor side issue and it turned into a big deal?

It is easy for this type of disagreement to come up between people when we focus too much on the words and not enough on the message. We get caught up in technical details this way and “miss the forest for the trees.” This can be an innocent mistake.

However, sometimes this type of conflict happens when we are invested in being “right”. In order for us to be right we therefore need the other person to be “wrong”, even slightly “wrong” so that we can show that we know better. Wanting to be right is often about wanting to be superior, which is a function of your ego. It leads to a battle of egos, where no one wants to concede and feel inferior. Both egos strive to get credit for their knowledge or stronger point, but the other person cannot give credit because it will be used to discredit them!

You can see why these arguments tend to go nowhere or escalate as each side tries harder to win. It ends in one of two ways: either one party emerges the victor and the other feels diminished, or they both leave the discussion in a dissatisfying stalemate, reviewing points in their minds about why they were really “right”. Neither option is beneficial. It turns into a circular trap.

What is the problem with the second scenario? It moves from a discussion about technicalities, to people getting their feelings hurt. Often, it is not the actual facts presented, but rather how it was done. It is done in a way that says, “I’m smarter than your or better”, or even “you should know better”. This scolding or discrediting is hurtful to your partner and hard to swallow. It is also unnecessary and a sign of weakness on your part if you engage in it. It shows you need to be “right” and will hurt others to get your needs met.

Take a good, hard look at your motives and goals for your discussions. Are they:

If your motives fall under the destructive group, they may feel good to you but are satisfied at the other person’s expense. Make sure your goals are considerate of both parties. Know that a skilled communicator leaves everyone feeling good about the interaction. Strive to leave everyone in a better place than they were before. Otherwise, why even engage in the discussion? Before you speak, ask yourself if what you say will move things forward in a positive direction.

How to avoid falling into the trap of wanting to be “right

  1. Notice if you are getting caught up in being “right” over a small non-issue.
  2. Tell yourself to stop and take a slow, deep breath to relax and refocus.
  3. Remind yourself of what you want instead of conflict: to connect, share, enjoy each other’s company, or be appreciated. Know that these are positive goals for the other person as well and that you can help both parties at once.
  4. Refocus on your goals. If you disagree, make sure it is only done for the right reasons – you think it is worth it to both to be correct, it will be helpful to the discussion, and it is important to the main thrust of the conversation.
  5. It is not only okay, but even skillful at times to ignore small inaccuracies in order to maintain focus on the main objective. Letting go of small points demonstrates that you are mature and do not need to prove yourself constantly to others.
  6. Focus on where you agree to create connection. In this way you emphasize what is best in your conversations (not what is the worst or the least value).
  7. Refocusing on constructive goals will avert or shorten and resolve a conflict, making you a hero to your partner (no one wants to be at odds over some insignificant miscommunication).

Relax and enjoy the results of your good efforts with others!