A Coaching Power Tool Created by Lindsey Auman
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Humans do not want to be wrong; wrong is linked to failure, mistakes, loss… shame. We are rewarded for being right with promotions, recognition, assets, and attention. We are conditioned to fight against being wrong – to seek out being right. In the land of right and wrong, many of us are working hard to not be wrong and are either paralyzed into inaction by fear of being wrong or we are aggressively defending our actions/decisions/beliefs in order to avoid being wrong.
To be right, we must dismiss all other possibilities and defend our belief. This is a set-up for loneliness and stagnation. People who are protecting their “right-ness” are threatened and angered by others who bring into question their belief. To remove the threat, they choose to either eliminate or attack the opposition. They live on the defense and substitute being right for living a happy life. Additionally, while they may be incredibly well versed in the research and stances which back up their belief, there is little possibility of growth outside of that carefully guarded box.
While it is a fact that we all have beliefs, having them doesn’t make them a truth. Yet, the ego would have us believe otherwise. People fight, stress themselves and others out, and create a general sense of malaise in protection of the egos need to be right. This need isn’t actually rooted in how we see ourselves, from the inside out. Rather, it is rooted in how we want to be seen by others, from the outside in, and connected to our sense of self-worth.
Consider a castaway on an island with no other inhabitants. He makes a new fishing net that he really believes in. This ingenious net will bring him tenfold more fish than the other nets he’s been using. Yet, when he puts his net into practice, it fails, catching not even half the fish of the more conventional old nets. He makes tweaks to the design, but alas, it seems he was wrong about his new net. He may be frustrated and yell or cry. He will be hungry. What he isn’t going to do, however, is wax poetic to himself about all the reasons his new net is still the better net. He’s not going to defend or argue about his nets right-ness… because from the inside out, he KNOWS that he was wrong about his new net and if he doesn’t accept this, he’s going to be very hungry. Take this same man off his island and place him in a business board room of a multi-million dollar company who manufactures fishing nets. All eyes are on him as the results of his new net are displayed before his peers and bosses, and, as we know, the results are not good. Does he react the same way or does his ego now demand that he defend his idea to protect his sense of self? Now that the situation involves how others see him, not just how he sees himself, the stakes are higher. How he reacts is indicative of how much he has tied up being right with being worthy. On the island, our castaway may have been desperately insecure, yet no one was there to see his wrong-ness. In the board room, this same insecure man will fight to be right so that he feels he is still worthy of his job, his position, his income, even the love of his partner at home.
The need to be right is rooted in insecurity and fear of not being worthy. Being seen as right is only important to the ego. The ego always acts to preserve self-worth and will set up defenses to protect itself. Blaming others and making them wrong reduces inner tension. Putting the problem outside of oneself brings up feelings of self-righteousness which satisfy the ego and keep the pseudo self-worth which has been built on self-righteous beliefs from crumbling.
People who are standing in defense of their outside-in way of seeing themselves often feel betrayed by others. Thus, they feel justified in criticizing and blaming others. What is really happening, however, is they are avoiding the ego-shattering insight that they may actually be wrong and what will happen if they are wrong. They fear losing worth and will become angry at anyone who challenges their right-ness.
The greatest perils of being right are when the right-ness is a matter of opinion. When a belief/opinion can be scientifically proven, the fact-status of the belief renders the conflict moot. One merely needs to do the research and determine the factual answer; the opinion is safe. It is no longer about the person making the assertion, it is about fact. When being right is a matter of opinion, the ego is on guard. Because it is tied to self-worth, the opinion becomes a contention and is defended as if it were actually able to be proven. Is it really right if you ARE right about which way the laundry should be sorted but it ruins your morning, and chips away at the health of your relationship, to prove it? Is it really right if you ARE right about religion but you end up angry and despising large segments of the population to prove it?
There is another way: being. Being is neither right nor is it wrong. Being just is. Being is a place of acceptance – and a place of growth. It is a place of past as well as one of possibility. Being is the shades of gray whereas right is white and wrong is black. By being, fear, and thus paralysis, are off the table. What is there to be afraid of when you just “are?”
Do not confuse being with complacency. Being is accepting what is and what is not as well as knowing that you don’t know what you don’t know. It is “maybe” as a response to something you don’t personally believe, because maybe it is true – for that person, for another situation, perhaps even, for yourself. When coming from a place of being, you create possibility and empowerment. When coming from a place of being right, you create division and disempowerment.
Byron Katie has created a process which she calls “The Work1” which she says teaches people to “identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world.” She encourages people to identify how they are judging others and then find what she calls “the turnarounds.” Through the process of The Work, she is identifying how people believe themselves right and others to be wrong and asking them to turn the other’s wrongness on themselves. For example, if Jane believes that Paul never listens to her, The Work encourages Jane to turnaround the statement so it is instead “I never listen to myself.” At first, to Jane, who is feeling very right in her opinion of Paul, this new statement is all wrong. In The Work, she spends time finding truth in it. How could that statement be true? When she was arguing with Paul, was she out of control emotionally and not listening to her better judgment to take a break until she could calm down and thus not say things she really doesn’t mean? Perhaps. Maybe. Through The Work, Jane is releasing being right and turning towards being.
Once you are open to challenging your beliefs, your places where you are absolutely right, you open up a pathway to seeing how your beliefs have been limiting you. When you separate your belief from being righteous about it, you create a way of being that is of growth and connection.
The next time you find yourself in a place of knowing you are absolutely right and needing another person to see this about you, make a choice to approach the situation differently. Consider the word “maybe” when you hear the opposing belief. Turn around what you believe about the other person or the situation onto yourself. See what could also be true there. What about that scares you about yourself?
Be gentle with the situation, there is a reason your ego is screaming to be seen as right. Take your time and move slowly as you seek less to be heard about your right-ness and more to hear the other person’s opposition. Your ego is mostly likely going to freak out – screaming things like “I can’t let them think they are RIGHT! They will now always think they are right – and they are most definitely NOT RIGHT.” Recognize how this way of thinking is dividing you from the other person and from growing for yourself. Also, consider how this response is outside-in based thinking – it is no matter to you if the other person always thinks they are right – that is about them, not about you.
And from this place of maybe, possibility and growth, go deeper. Notice the feelings of anxiety that you are experiencing. As you learn to recognize these feelings, start to consider where they really come from. Chances are you are not really afraid of the laundry being sorted incorrectly. There is something much deeper in your belief. What if your way of sorting it isn’t really the best way? What does that say about you and your decision making? Are you really capable? Are you really loveable? As you learn to recognize anxiety, delve deeper into its real root, and deal with it, you will become more self-sufficient. You will begin to live from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.
As you dismiss “I must be right to be safe” and move towards “I have this belief, and I am open to possibility” you will have more self-understanding and more self-love. Self-centeredness dissolves into self-esteem.
A client who is stuck in being right has a lot invested in their stance. Remember that they are protecting themselves from things they are terribly afraid of and have likely never voiced. As a coach, we must help them peel back the layers of their righteousness to get to the core of the real issue.
There are several approaches which may work for your client. First, similar to the process that Byron Katie outlines in The Work, allow them to take one step back first by outlining all their complaints and judgements about the situation or person with which they are in conflict. Ask them questions which will dig them deeper into the trenches of their being right. From that place, move them forward.
Questions to consider:
- In what ways is this true?
- How can you absolutely know it is true?
- How does this way of thinking bring stress into your life?
- How do you treat the other people directly related to this situation?
- How do you treat people unrelated to this situation when you are involved in this conflict?
- What happens to you if you release this thought?
Then, turnaround their belief about others onto your client. Try the same questions above, this time asking them to consider how they see their wrongness in the other actually within themselves.
Another approach with your client is to get them considering the ways that their right-ness is costing them.
Questions to use:
- To what extent would you choose not being seen as right if you could be happier for it?
- Could you choose not to prove your point if everyone involved, including yourself, was happier for doing so?
- What is being right in this situation costing you?
- What would being seen as wrong mean about you?
- What does being right about this protect you from seeing about yourself?
Rigidity of thought creates predictability, which inevitably keeps anxiety at bay. By releasing the need to control how others see us, we free up new ways which we can see ourselves. When we address the root cause of the real anxiety with our clients, they will open up possibility for real self-love and freedom.
- How do you model being vs being right for your clients?
- How is sympathy like being right and empathy like being?
- What can you do to ensure that you empower your clients in their ways of believing?
- What are some ways you are being right in your life? What is possible if you release being right in those situations?
- As a coach, when are you right?
- Is there a situation where you believe that being right is necessary?
- What are some questions that you can ask your client to move them from being right to being?