When I work with couples and families one of the major barriers to vulnerability and connection, is a preoccupation with who is right, and being right. The standoff of one person’s perspective of an event in conflict with another person’s perspective of that same event. Dialectically, of course it makes sense that both these perspectives can exist and neither is “right” or “wrong” but when it is your conflict, your family, and you who in your mind is “right,” you betcha it matters.
Being wrong is such an underutilized skill. I know for a lot of folks taking ownership of behaviors, making a mistake, being wrong, can feel like the absolute worst thing, as if being wrong but not acknowledging it somehow absolves us of being wrong? Or admitting we are wrong, or made a mistake, somehow makes us less desirable or lovable? I get it, the preoccupation with perfectionism and over-functioning behaviors are in response to the fear of being wrong, blamed, or criticized. Brené Brown, PhD, author, and researcher who has studied shame and vulnerability for over a decade describes perfectionism as a form of armor we use to protect ourselves against being judged. "It’s a way of thinking that says this: ‘If I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame and ridicule,’” Brown says in an interview on OWN for Oprah's Life Class. What does it mean when we are wrong, or make mistakes; big mistakes/little mistakes? For a lot of people, it means we are defective, unworthy, less valuable. Of course, we would want to protect ourselves from that, right?
Objectively speaking, being wrong, making mistakes, and being imperfect just means we are human and that, sometimes, we are wrong, make mistakes, and do things less than perfectly. I come from a long line of, “Yes, we will get to solving the problem, but most importantly and first things first: whose fault it is?” It is as if I lived much of my early adult life trying to be “right,” know things, be the best/smartest/most competent so I couldn’t get blamed for being wrong. Being wrong was the worst thing to be, something being coded as your fault was the ultimate burn. I learned two very important lessons from this conquest of knowing things, and being right.
- It is SO lonely.
- It doesn’t fucking matter!
I’ve decided, for me at least, it’s such a relief to be wrong, to not know, to need help figuring something out, and ironically, not be right. Of course, I am not right all the time, what a ridiculous expectation to have! Although, I know I am not alone in placing this expectation on myself.
Being Wrong Gracefully
- Remain Teachable: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are very few”- Shunryu Suzuki. When we are open to learning, and live under the assumption that everyone has something to teach us, whether it is about ourselves or a situation, we have limitless possibilities of learning and growing together.
- Lead with Curiosity: The most important characteristic in leadership and management is the ability to be wrong, to not be the smartest person in the room, empower and share ownership to elevate and reinforce the strength of members on your teams.
- Own it, Be Wrong! Say out loud to the team, “Oops I am wrong,” or, “I completely missed this,” or “oh shucks I thought more about this and I was 100% moving us in the wrong direction.” Great, now we can problem solve and find a solution that works, together.
- Fall on Your Own Sword. Instead of doubling down on your rightness, fall on your own sword and be happy for fucks stake. Who really cares? It may not be the look we are going for, if when we die, our tombstones say, “Here lay Meghan, she was always right.” Especially where it matters most, in relationships, marriages, partnerships, or families, it is even more important to be wrong.
- When Right, Be Humble. Who really cares about being right either? WE DO! When you are right, wear it like a lose fitting garment. It’s nice to be right, but if we have more humility around our rightness, being wrong may not feel like such a dreadful thing. We are all familiar with the saying “Do you want to be right, or do you want to happy.” If we can keep a balance between how much we value being right, we may not be blind to how much prioritizing being right gets in the way of our happiness. “Here lay Meghan, she was happy.” I much prefer the sound of that legacy.
- Be Vulnerable and Human, it is your most authentic state. Say, “Hey I am really sorry I took this out on you.” Or, “I am really scared and it is not fair for me to put this pressure on you, I was wrong.” Or, “I wish I could do that over again, I really didn’t mean what I just said, I am sorry.” Then see what happens next, it is incredible what happens with the power of vulnerability.
- All in This Together: We Are All Wrong. IT IS THE BEST TO BE WRONG. And the greatest part is how much room it gives other people to be human alongside us. What if we didn’t equate being wrong with shame? What if being wrong didn’t have an evaluative judgment attached to it, and it was just a thing that happens sometimes, like being right. Sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we crush it and then there is everything in between.