No one likes to be wrong, and most people really dislike being told they are wrong, or even worse, being proven wrong. This potential (and inevitable) point of conflict poses a problem for folks who need to work well together on a daily basis at work, in class, or within a family unit. So, what can a person do to avoid this unpleasantness and improve these interactions when they arise? What mindset could we prepare and practice to prepare ourselves better for these eventualities?
I propose a combination of proactive steps:
- First, we must honestly accept that no one is perfect and exempt from being wrong at some point. Yes, that means you. And me. And your boss. And the lowest-paid person and the highest-paid person in your company. This seems like it would be straightforward, but this type of self-awareness does not come naturally to most people. So, admit to yourself that you will probably have some situation at some point in your life (though, it likely will be several situations at several points in your life) when you are wrong and someone calls you on it. Accept it. Own it. No reason to be ashamed. No reason to deny the possibility. Even the most intelligent and experienced of us will have bad days or come to incorrect conclusions or measure or estimate something inaccurately. It will happen. Be a bigger person and acknowledge that you are human.
- Okay, next, we must accept that being faced with our mistakes will be an unpleasant experience. It will make us doubt ourselves. It will put doubt in others’ minds (or, at least, make us afraid that it will). It will be uncomfortable and will suck. Like, a lot. As my husband described his preparation for a bone marrow biopsy procedure, “I anticipated excruciating pain, so when it hurt a lot–but was not excruciating–I was able to deal with it.” Similarly, if we acknowledge that we will have these interactions at some point during our adult working lives and acknowledge that they will undoubtedly be unpleasant, we will be better prepared to handle ourselves when they arise.
- One way to prepare ourselves to deal maturely with these situations has to do with pre-thought about such interactions and playing out in our heads the possibility of such an incident. Some might call this visualization. I believe it worth the trouble to avoid being blindsided by it in real life. Picture it, let yourself feel the embarrassment, anger, fear, and any other unpleasant emotions and realize that any or all of them could occur in the moment. If you prepare yourself for the worst, anything less will not be as bad.
- Another thought is to demonstrate an appropriately-leveled respect for one’s peers and possible naysayers. Seeing the world from other perspectives is a sign of maturity and cognitive development. If you respect your peers, you are more likely to respect their opinions and consider opposing conclusions or ideas. This respect would include curiosity and interest in others’ opinions, research, hypotheses, and worth. The world does not revolve around you. Or me. Or any single individual. Practice this by showing an interest in and considering the validity of the work and thoughts of other people.
- Finally, an extension of this preparation could include taking the time to anticipate possible questions that others may have about your work. Hopefully, you will have done this anyway, but doing this extra step has the added benefit of possibly catching errors before publication of ideas and a deeper evaluation of conclusions so that you can more easily defend them. Anticipate challenges, prepare answers to them, and reflect on others’ perspectives.
I believe you can avoid confrontations if you choose to be proactive in your approach to disagreements and differing opinions. Walk into the room already knowing what may be said and prepared to answer intelligently and respectfully, and everyone walks away satisfied.