Would you prefer to be happy or right?
Recently I addressed 100 leaders about creating a culture of healthy conflict in their teams. One of the biggest causes of conflict is right-wrong thinking and this led to the question: would you prefer to be right or happy?
Give me right every time!
Around 20% of the people in the room admitted that they would prefer to be right even if it cost them some happiness. One lady even said, ‘I would prefer to be right because that makes me happy!’
Another participant approached me afterwards and said, ‘give me right every time. I know it isn’t a healthy perspective but I just hate being wrong!’
A desperate need to be right isn’t going to be the most useful attitude – and it will definitely lead to some conflict in the workplace. However, at least these people know what they are dealing with.
Happiness is much more important! (in theory)
The other 80% of the room said they would chose happiness over being right – and I have no doubt that they genuinely believe that is what they want.
The problem is that you don’t get to make the choice that simply. No-one approaches you with a magic wand and offers to bestow either happiness or right upon you.
This choice gets made in much more subtle and less obvious moments – and making the choice effectively one time doesn’t guarantee making it well next time.
The real point of choice
For all those people reading this who are thinking that happiness is most important, consider these questions that I put to the audience.
- When you are disagreeing with your partner, are there ever times when you just have to have the last word? Times when you just can’t let something go even though you know it will start the argument over again?
- When you are frustrated or annoyed during conflict in the workplace, do you ever give in to the impulse to do or say something even though you know you shouldn’t?
- During or after an argument, are you ever like a ‘dog with a bone?’ Do you find you just can’t let things go?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, in those moments you are probably choosing right over happiness. You know that your behaviour will cause some grief but your ego insists that you ‘set the record straight’.
Could you be right AND happy?
If you would genuinely prefer to be happy rather than right, it’s a choice you need to make every time you are in a situation like the ones described above.
There is a shift in thinking that may help you make that choice more often. Right-wrong thinking sets up a situation in which there is a winner and a loser. No-one wants to be a loser and so we sacrifice happiness to avoid it.
What if you could be right without them being wrong? What if they could be right without you being wrong? What if there was space for both of you to have your own perspectives and be OK with that? What if the goal of the discussion shifted from persuading each other to understanding each other?
Each of these mindsets creates the possibility that you could be both right AND happy.
Do you agree? If not, I am OK with that – and happy for you to have your own perspective!
Editor's note: This blog was originally published on November 2014 and has been revamped and updated for comprehensiveness and better readability.