Would you rather be right or would you rather connect with people?
What’s more important? Being right or connecting with people?
How many among us cannot stand not winning an argument? How many of us will sooner die than be wrong about something? Even something we truly know little about? Why is being right so vitally important to so many of us?
Needing to be right all the time is a flaw of human nature. We like being correct. It makes us feel good. We like aligning with the winner. We like winning arguments. It’s good for the ego. It’s boosts self-esteem. It is self-righteousness embodied: we’re right and we know it.
Only it is a very annoying quality to need to be right all the time. It puts people off, it shuts people down, and it breaks up otherwise good relationships.
Think about the local blowhard in your life, the know-it-all, Mr. I’m Right. This is the guy who always has an opinion even on stuff he has not earned the right to have one on. (That one is the correct one, by the way.) This is the guy who always has an edge to everything. This is the guy who is happy to tell you your business when he has no right to. This is the guy who will argue with you until he is blue in the face that the sky is, in fact, not blue. Or, he vehemently disagrees with your calling it cerulean blue.
Are you annoyed by him yet? Do you want to go have dinner and drinks with him and listen to him drone on about how smart he is for two hours? Are you at all interested in his political opinions and on what’s going on in this country and what he thinks needs to be done in order to solve them — if only the politicians in Washington would listen to him.
Mr. Know-it-All could be your brother-in-law or your brother. We all have one in our lives like this.
What Mr. Right doesn’t know is that he fails to connect with people. He pushes them away from him by always trying to be the smartest guy in the room. People don’t want to hang around a guy like him, and he cannot figure out why that is. Other people have friends — where are his? Other people have good relationships with their wives — why not him? Other people can have co-workers and colleagues they can rely on to help them get projects done — where are his partners at work and why aren’t they willingly helping him get things done?
As Robert Green states in his wonderful book, The Laws of Human Nature, it is a flaw in our nature that we choose being right over connecting with people. We choose winning arguments over aligning with people who disagree with us. We choose self-righteousness over happy, positive relationships. And then we wonder why we’re so lonely on a Friday night. We wonder why those closest to us can’t stand us after an hour. We wonder why no one wants to sit next to us at Thanksgiving dinner or any dinner, for that matter. When it comes to other people, we’re out.
The antidote is to be OK with being wrong. You don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. No one person has a monopoly on the truth. All you have are strongly-held opinions you likely have not examined in years. Typically those most vehemently holding onto their beliefs are the least likely to ever examine their validity and to scientifically falsify them.
Ironically, being OK with being wrong is a very confident posture. It proves to people you’re openminded. It further proves to others that you’re willing to change your mind when new facts present themselves, another rare quality. Also, it shows humility, knowing out of the gate that you could be wrong on this.
The stock market has a way of running people over who think they’re smart enough to game it. Wall Street attracts some of the top minds in business to manage money. Top talent thinks it is exactly that — they’ve got the grades, the credentials, the connections and the money to back it up. Only top talent is often proven wrong on Wall Street and in the stock market. They’re often long and wrong, and then they’re left scratching their heads, trying to figure out what the hell happened. Humility visits investors regularly on Wall Street.
What’s the professional investor’s demeanor like after a tough loss? Usually, it is one of humility, knowing full well that they just got their ass kicked and it can happen again at any time. They just had their face ripped off, and they thought they were supposed to be the one doing the face-ripping.
Substantial losses of money are visceral human experiences. Tragically, some cannot take the lesson and go on to make the same mistakes again. Those are rare, though, because if you suffer a substantial loss of money as a professional investor, you will be lucky to ever manage money again. Your reputation is shot. Negative word spreads fast on Wall Street, especially when they smell blood in the water. Friends and comrades are there with you until they get a whiff of your 900 cuts working toward 1,000. A few more losses and they will devour you.
The humility of financial losses are tough professional lessons. Those who have thought long and hard about these losses are the first to trumpet them to others. Warren Buffett regularly discusses his losses and mistakes in his annual letter to shareholders. While Buffett’s mistakes are usually not materially substantial, he tells people about them nonetheless. Jim Cramer has a similar philosophy in regards to his mis-picks. Examine them. Talk about them with others. Try to figure out what went wrong so you don’t repeat the mistake. Stick to your own investing principles. Professionals like Cramer and Buffett know that you’re going to be wrong in stock picking. So, you’d better get used to it and have a strategy for dealing with it when it comes knocking.
The lesson? Get to be OK with being wrong. If you’re intellectually honest, it’s going to happen to you — often. Be like Buffett and Cramer and talk about your mistakes. The more often you talk about your mistakes and being wrong with others, the less emotional impact they hold over you. Most important, you’ll find yourself connecting with other people rather rapidly. Few things build rapport quickly like showing humility early.
You don’t have all the answers. Be OK with that.