Breaking through the “I’m right!” battle

Have you ever argued with someone about the “right way” to do something? The “right way” to tackle a problem?  The “right way” to get somewhere? Each person is sure they’re right. Each person is certain their way is the best way. This kind of conflict can be maddening because you have no doubt that you’re “right.”

Let’s take a vacation, for example. You and your companion having a fabulous destination in mind. You are sure you know the right way to travel to the destination. Your companion feels the same about their way. You don’t agree. Argument ensues. All of a sudden, the enthusiasm you jointly had for the destination has now been replaced by the annoyance of trying to convince your companion that you are “right.” When this happens, it can be hard to take a step back and try to get what I call a drone view of what’s happening.

First: Zoom out

When emotions are running high, flexibility is always running low, but zooming out helps takes the emotion out of the situation so you can see it more objectively. When people get mad and dig their heels in, it’s usually because there is some unmet need they’re trying to get met. If you acknowledge the rightness of their opinion (“I can see why that makes sense” or “I can understand why that’s important to you”), it may fulfill their need to feel respected, feel smart, or feel sane. It could preserve their idea of what they want to get out of the situation. It may also strengthen their confidence that they will have the experience they’re hoping to have. So, what if you still feel like you can’t give them what they’re looking for because you STILL feel that you are RIGHT?

Next: Zoom in

You can take the edge off of so many arguments by understanding that your answer seems “right” to you because of what you value about the situation.  Your companion may value something else. This is the time to get curious about what’s important to them. Zoom in on their values. Thinking analytically about the other person’s perspective makes it easier to feel less negatively about their opinion that they are right.

  • If they want to arrive at the destination ASAP, then they’re going to value the shortest route.
  • If they value saving money so they can spend it at the destination, then they might be willing to take a slightly longer route to avoid tolls or drive to avoid paying expensive airfare.
  • If they value aesthetics and calm or quality time together, then they might opt for the much longer scenic route.
  • If they value efficiency, they might choose the path that allows them to do other tasks along the way.

Neither person is “wrong” because each is basing their opinion on what they personally value about the journey.

Once you determine your companion’s priorities, you’re left with the different task of managing the power dynamic in the relationship leading to the question of whose values matter more? That’s a topic for another blog. Just remember, not everything is a hill worth dying on. As long as it’s not a true violation of your boundaries or values, it’s important to allow your companion to have things their way from time to time. After all, relationships should be reciprocal. Giving in to their wishes doesn’t mean you won’t also enjoy the journey. In fact, you may experience some unexpected surprises including the recognition that it’s okay to not always be “right.”

About the Author

When she is not navigating the perils of parenting adolescents, Erin Castleberry is a mental health therapist and Media Director at Waypoint Wellness Center. She has presented locally and internationally on the effects of social media on mental health and held an adjunct professorship at Johns Hopkins University. She specializes in anxiety management, life stage adjustment, and parent-child relationship building.

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