This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Gold fishes around a big hook

I lead workshops to a lot of really smart subject matter experts, most of whom are right a lot of the time—and like others to see it that way. I help them begin to see why this is a problem, which I’ll bottom-line for you with a favorite quote from my co-author Charlie Green: “Being right is vastly overrated. Being right too soon just pisses people off.”

I discovered an article not too long ago, shared by a generous client, that sheds some light on why being right is actually addictive, and provides some really helpful advice for how to deal with that.

In Judith Glaser’s piece, “Your Brain is Hooked on Being Right,” she positions the problem succinctly: “When you argue and win, your brain floods with … adrenaline and dopamine, which makes you feel good, dominant, and even invincible. It’s a feeling any of us would want to replicate. So … we get addicted to being right.”

(Side note: This totally explains some things about me.)

[Tweet “A hidden addiction that fells most SMEs: #getreal #trustedadvisor”]

There’s a problem, though, according to Glaser, and that’s when one person is getting high on being right, it’s at someone else’s expense, because that someone else’s brain naturally reacts to being dominated with a flood of cortisol, which in turn (may) triggers a fight, flight, freeze, or appease response. Then high-order brain function shuts down, and along with it things like the ability to strategize, build trust, and experience compassion.

In short, there’s a chemical reaction, and not the good kind. Not only does being right too soon piss people off, apparently it also jacks up their neurochemistry in a bad way.

One remedy, according to Glaser, is to introduce a different chemical into the mix: oxytocin. “It’s activated by human connection and it opens up the networks in our executive brain, or prefrontal cortex, further increasing our ability to trust and open ourselves to sharing,” she writes. Glaser also suggests several ways to do this, one of which is … drumroll … listening with empathy.

Listening masterfully is a tough thing for anyone to do, let alone addicts like me. Fortunately, it’s something anyone can improve any time, with practice.

Of course, the first step is to admit you have a problem.

Make It Real

This week, notice when you get hooked on being right—in a big way or a little way. Just notice. Pay attention to your interactions at work and at home.

Learn More

Find out more about why being right is vastly overrated, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or discover the power of empathy as statements, not questions, in Chapter 6 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).