It seems so black and white
One of the things I love about higher education is the shared belief in logic and reason. Leaders intend to look at facts, as objectively as possible, to make logical and reasonable choices. After all, we have all been trained to make data-driven decisions rather than assume our view points are correct. We use proven methods and frameworks to get to the truth.
When in doubt, leaders can typically consult a faculty manual, a classified staff contract, a paragraph in the ed. code, a law, a bargaining unit agreement, HR guidelines, accounting principles, a handbook, or other policies and procedures. We find comfort and pride in doing what is right.
Being knowledgeable about rules can make us more valuable to our institutions because we know how to be fair and protect our districts from liability. Being right matters! But to some people, being right has become their primary focus at the detriment of emotional intelligence.
Being right makes others wrong
When two higher ed. leaders have a disagreement and each one is attached to convincing the other, conflict arises. The flaw in this approach is to think that it is ok to dismiss everything the other person is saying (since they are wrong!) and to prove a point by explaining and justifying one’s perspectives.
In that situation, nobody listens, and both parties grow increasingly frustrated and defensive. Being right means that the other person is wrong and no one wants to be wrong. The ego’s relentless need to be right and to “win” the debate makes effective communication impossible. Things get personal. Co-workers may even become dreaded enemies.
Have you ever witnessed a similar situation? It happens every day on subjects ranging from course scheduling, classroom use, budget allocations, temporary hires, strategic planning, to employee evaluations.
Let me ask you: What are you thinking right now? Are you agreeing and remembering what you have seen other people do, while thinking this doesn’t apply to you? Think again! I have never met a higher ed. leader who didn’t, at least on occasion, deal with conflict stemming from attachment to being right.
How to self-diagnose
You might think of yourself as someone who listens actively, seeks to understand others, and is fair. And you’re probably right. But consciously or not, you draw the line somewhere. If someone does something that is undeniably wrong, your judgment of their actions will stop you from being able to understand their perspective.
When you catch yourself saying any of these sentences, your judgment prevents you from listening with a genuine desire to understand.
- “What he said was incorrect.”
- “It’s just not true.”
- “That was wrong.”
- “It is inappropriate.”
- “It is unacceptable.”
- “This shouldn’t be happening.”
- “Our President shouldn’t tolerate that.”
- “I can’t believe he is getting away with this.”
- “It makes no sense to assign this project to this person.”
- “That’s the wrong away to go about it.”
- “This will never work.”
- “That will get us in trouble if we get audited.”
You see, you are probably right and that’s the problem! Attachment to being right and wanting people to agree with you make you limits your ability to influence others. Nobody wants to be judged. Nobody wants to feel attacked. So if you want to influence others, your first step must be to listen.
The power of dropping attachment to being right
If you really want to influence someone and help them see the light, you must first give them what they crave, which is to have a voice and to be understood. Listen with an open mind and ask clarifying questions. Show some flexibility and eagerness to come to an agreement.
Do not make things personal. You will be able to reduce tension and build or re-build rapport. The person will drop their weapons, and from that point, you will be able to have a healthy and respectful discussion.
I cannot emphasize this enough: you won’t get someone to agree with you if make them defensive. They need to feel respected, valued, and safe in your presence.
When I explain this to my clients, they usually say “yes, I completely understand, but in this particular case, what X did is wrong and I can’t accept any excuses for it.” And I agree, the point isn’t to tell the other person that they are right when they aren’t, but to drop the right-wrong duality altogether. If things have gotten personal and egos have been bruised, discussing facts won’t make a difference.
The relationship will need to be repaired first. Think about it. Does making enemies or getting a target on your back ever work to your advantage? Of course not!
Please understand that attachment to being right comes from the ego wanting validation and not wanting to be challenged. Don’t let your ego stop you from being an inspirational leader.
What to do next
If you are facing conflict and challenges on your campus, please stop focusing on the fact that you are right. Put your attention on trying to understand other people’s reasons for doing what they are doing. Consider the possibility that they have different values, goals, and perspectives.
Find compassion in your heart to imagine what it is like to be in their shoes. Start by giving them what you wish they would give you: open-mindedness, respect, and consideration. You must give before you get.
This powerful approach requires a radical shift in the way you think. It may not be easy to do this alone but you don’t have to! Click here to schedule a complimentary phone consultation and we will discuss how I can help you improve professional relationships, gain more influence on your campus, and get what you want!
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.