When you lead, disagreeing with others is a requirement. Making decisions, advocating for solutions, and carrying tough messages come with the job. Unfortunately, when we disagree we have been trained to tell people they are wrong before we tell them we are right. It seems only natural to do so. Telling people they are wrong before we tell them what is right seems logical as well. “You’re not looking at this the right way, let me explain it to you.” “You don’t believe that.” “You are mistaken.” “What you suggested isn’t realistic.” “That’s not the way it works, let me show you.”
By telling people they are wrong, we launch disagreement in the most disagreeable way. When those we engage are told they are wrong, they bristle, dig in, and become defensive. No one likes to be told they are wrong and we often respond immediately by thinking of the many reasons to support our view instead of listening to the answer. Those with more experience, status, and seniority react even more poorly when they are told they are wrong. Telling people they are wrong stifles dialogue and shuts people down.
The best leaders have learned a better way — they simply tell people how right they are. They avoid the preamble. By refraining from the need to start with “you’re wrong,” skillful leaders get others to listen and engage their advocacy without defensiveness. Advocating strongly for what they believe and starting there allows leaders to push disagreement aside and focus on solutions and answers. Without negating what others believe by first telling them they are wrong, the best leaders display confidence and an answer others want to follow. Telling people they are wrong is a nasty habit, one the best leaders avoid whenever they can. Don’t be wrong about that.