Monday January 7, 2019 0 comments
By Ariana Friedlander
Addiction is commonly associated with drugs or gambling, behaviors that you don't expect to see much in the office.
According to Judith E. Glaser, there's one addiction that's pervasive in the workplace and could be costing your organization thousands of dollars annually...that is the addiction to being right!
According to an SMB communications study, miscommunication costs businesses more than $26,000 a year per employee in lost productivity. Conversely, a 2010 Tower Watson study found companies with good communication generate 47% greater returns to shareholders than those with poor communication.
And if you're having a hard time relating to those numbers, consider this: A Stanford University study found that 9 out of 10 conversations miss the mark. That means 90% of the time you are conversing with someone you leave having completely different impressions of what was discussed and decided!
What in the world is causing this huge, expensive, and frustrating disconnect?
To explain, it is best to flash back to your school days, and particularly that feeling you had when you received your grades. Remember the excitement you felt upon getting an A? Or that flush of pride you experienced when your teacher asked a question of the class and you got the answer right?
We live in a society that dishes out excessive amounts of positive affirmation for getting the answer right -- coupled with crippling shame for making a mistake. Just like lab rats get conditioned to push a lever in exchange for a treat, we've been trained to get the answer right throughout the vast majority of our formal schooling. When we do, we experience a flood of dopamine, which triggers the reward center of the brain -- yay!
Simply put, addiction to being right has the same neurochemical effects as a gambling addiction. Like a gambling addiction, we don't always need to win to keep trying and the rewards for winning (or being right) are short-lived. It's not long before the proverbial winner is itching for another fix, returning back to the slots!
Addiction to being right drastically effects how we approach conversations. Instead of being open to influence, people will fixate on having the right answer. When one is focused solely on being right, conversational blindspots, like confirmation bias, become professional hazards.
Workplace cultures that continually affirm people for being right and shame the mistake maker are inherently I-centric. Each person feels the need to protect their turf out of fear of humiliation instead of working together towards a common goal. No wonder addiction to being right is so costly to business!
So how do you break the addiction to being right?
Well, with any habit, you can't just break it. There are neural pathways in your brain associated with the habit. That means you have to rewrite the habit pattern. Here are three things you can start doing to rewrite addiction to being right:
- Recognize there's a problem. Like any addiction, acknowledging there's a problem is the first step to overcoming it. Start by deepening your awareness of when addiction to being right is present in your conversations. One sign to look for includes being positional or argumentative. Another indicator is leading questions -- Don't you think that's a good idea? Wouldn't you agree...? That's a pretty blatant appeal to affirm one's rightness. When you notice addiction to being right, it's helpful to pause the conversation and regroup.
- Be willing to change your mind and admit mistakes. It might seem overly simple, but once you've acknowledged the problem the next step is to shift your own behavior. By showing a willingness to change your mind and admit mistakes you are paving the way for others to follow suit. And while doing so might make you feel uncomfortable in the moment, pay attention to how the dynamics of the conversation shift and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome!
- Address systems and traditions that affirm being right. One common informal practice I see in organizations is a culture of blame. When a problem or a mistake is uncovered, the first thing people do is look for the scapegoat by asking, who's at fault? Then publicly humiliating that person by either reprimanding them or -- worse -- firing them. Having performance reviews in conjunction with raises is a formal practice that reinforces addiction to being right. Performance- based raises tend to place emphasis on rewarding people for doing the job right in the first place instead of creating space for employees to apply lessons learned from mishaps.
While it may seem daunting to change a conversational practice that's deeply ingrained in our culture, take solace. You are not alone! Additionally, neuroplasticity proves that changing such patterns is an inherent skill all humans possess.
As you take steps to replace addiction to being right with healthier communication practices, you will slip up or even fall on your face (I know I did). I encourage you to look at those situations as growth opportunities, offering you a chance to practice changing your mind and acknowledging your mistake in the moment.