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The danger with trying to be right all the time

By Georgia Murch

We all have voices in our head that whisper, or sometimes shout. The good and bad news is you’ll have them forever. The cool thing is you get to choose whether they are right or not and whether you will feed them or shut them down. Yet if you have a ‘cognitive distortion’ that lends itself to being right most of the time then this might not serve you.

American psychiatrist Dr Aaron Beck in 1972 coined the phrase cognitive distortions. He was instrumental in helping us understand how we often skew how we see things based on how we are wired, not how the circumstance is. It’s like the crazy mirrors at the circus and how they distort how we really look. We do the same with our thinking. The mind is very powerful and can convince of us things that are not always true. We become our own cognitive hazards.

Beck identified seven of these cognitive distortions and later his student Dr David Burns would identify another 10 unhelpful thinking styles. These included overgeneralisation (or concluding that because one thing happened to you one, it will occur over and over again), jumping to conclusions (particularly dangerous if not based on evidence and fact) and personalisation and blame (taking the blame even if a negative event is not your fault).

I’ve worked to identify the top ‘Board of Directors’ that live in our head – the voices that can govern our leadership style. And one of the most powerful, but not helpful one, is known as the ‘Always Righty’.

Always Righties are on a mission to prove that everything they and do is correct. Their favourite phrases include; “I’m just speaking the truth’; ‘I’m not arguing. I’m just explaining why I am correct”.

Always Righties need to ‘win’ conversations, regardless of the cost – even if that means hurting people they care about. Apologies feel hard for them as they don’t feel they are necessary or warranted. In extreme cases they are stubborn, combative, disruptive, arrogant, self-centred and rude. Their relationship to control is strong. They can be challenging to think with, work with and be in relationships with.

They are not great listeners, because they are busy thinking of the next thing to say to build their case. They are not searching the truth in discussions because they believe their opinion is the one that counts. Or they may fall into the trap of confabulation; saying something that is fabricated or distorted, but believing it to be true. It’s a lie told honestly.

Being a strong Always Righty is often a fast track to a life of personal isolation. This way of living prevents you from learning from others, it stifles creativity and innovation. As it shuts out other’s opinions and ideas. This Board of Director can be a challenge to identify in yourself for many. It’s a blind spot as you don’t see the problem. Because you’re right!

You tend to develop all your Board of Directors from your nature, the DNA of who you are. And your nurture. The experiences you’ve had in life.

I am a self-confessed reforming Always Righty. It took me into my late 30s to see it. Searching for other perspectives has not only expanding my world view, decision making and knowledge, but it makes it easier for others to be with me. I have learned that holding on to, or defending, my position is tiring. For me and those around me.

The world we are living in at the moment means there are so many big issues to discuss and disagree about. Whether it’s COVID-19, climate change, racism, religion. Just to start. Are you seeing yourself falling into the trap of defending your position or being curious enough to learn another perspective? Or you being triggered by those who don’t see things as you do? We can all have this tendency.

Are you brave enough to admit that at times you’re living with this Board of Director in your head? It’s freeing when you do. If you dare.

Georgia Murch is an organisational culture expert and the author of Flawsome; The Journey to Being Whole is Learning to be Wholey.

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