Two people, Roxanne and Don, separately approached me regarding their lives being miserable and their marriages suffering badly. The difference between how they subsequently responded to coaching could easily be summarized in two words: being right.
Don told me how his wife was unreasonable and demanding. Roxanne told me she had been selfish and difficult, and she couldn’t believe her husband had stayed with her as long as he had.
I told Don and Roxanne that the more words they used, the more likely it was that they were trying to be right. This is a fairly immutable law. Don responded with at least five hundred words about why he NEEDED to use a lot of words, while Roxanne said only, “Got it. Fewer words.”
I told them both that if they wanted to improve their relationships with their partners, they needed to say more often and more quickly, “I was wrong.” Don carefully—and with a great number of words—explained to me how he was NOT wrong, while Roxanne said, “Okay, I can do that.” Her husband later reported that she had been admitting a lot that she was wrong, more than he’d ever thought possible.
When I talked to them about the importance of admitting their mistakes, Don said, “I’m pretty sure that if I just started saying, ‘I’m wrong,’ I would probably drop over dead.” Roxanne said, “If I DON’T start admitting my mistakes, it will probably be the end of me. Thanks.”
With practice and trust, Roxanne became happier and developed an indescribably more fulfilling relationship with her husband. Don became angrier and angrier, and eventually his wife left him.
Insisting on being right is one of the most destructive behaviors we use—with ourselves and others. Being right gives us a brief feeling of power, but then we can’t learn, we isolate ourselves, and we ruin our relationships.
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