"Would you rather be right, or effective?" Every time I meet with our controller, those words stare me in the face from the wall of her gorgeous, light-flooded corner office, and I find myself fixating on them. I don't know why they just popped back into my head, as I sit here on our patio staring out at the palm trees, but they're stuck in my mind so I'm going to word-vomit out some thoughts. Hold on tight!
I'm the kind of person who has a bad, bad tendency to need to be right. In seventh grade English, we were having an organized class debate about some reading or other - I don't even remember what - and I could not stop arguing my point. I was right. I was right, I WAS right. No form of emphasis can capture how utterly confident I was in my certitude that I had taken the correct side of the argument, and I was willing to die on that hill, status and popularity and other classmates' feelings be damned. Needless to say, my team "won" the debate, and after class, my teacher pulled me aside and suggested I talk to my mother about joining the high school debate team. As a thirteen-year old. Ummm, right.
I did, eventually, join that high school debate team, and I was a damn good debater - undefeated as a novice, successful on the national competition circuit, and consistently placing high in my first and early second year. At a few tournaments, I made my opponents cry...an achievement of which I remain dubiously proud, even to this day.
That sort of half-ashamed pride in my argumentative ability trickles over into my personal life, too. I am far too reluctant to back down - famous in my family for needing to get the last word in, to prove my point, or to twist the knife. I am vicious when confronted unjustly by friends or partners, gifted with a colossal vocabulary and cursed with the kind of temper that stays dormant or suppressed for far too long and explodes out so violently as to be near-cruel. My family has a name for these sorts of flare-ups, after an incident in high school when I eviscerated a close guy friend, over the phone (while they all eavesdropped on another phone, of course), for falsely accusing me of being dishonest about some prom drama, of all things. Now, when I go off, they call it "John Doe'ing" someone (name, obviously, redacted to save that poor guy's dignity a decade later). Since that high school lash-out, I've only John Doe'd a half a dozen times, but each one lives in my memory: distinct moments of mingled shame over losing it and satisfaction in my ability to stand up for myself in my own righteousness.
I ramble so terribly, yikes - let's bring it back to that statement on the wall. "Do you want to be right, or effective?" I've been mulling over my desire to be right, and I think it stems largely from the fact that being right, being correct, traditionally earns one praise, accolades, gold stars and merit badges. I am a junkie for pleasing people and achieving highly - always have been, always will be. You have to be right to get high test scores, to pass pop quizzes, to clear audit review notes or adhere to finance policies and procedures. Doing things right is a source of comfort, of safety, of success. But there's a difference between doing things right and being right, and I often don't adhere to that brightline.
Of late, my job has really hammered this point home, as has my personal life. Long story short, I John Doe'd a bit a few weeks ago on someone who was being hideously unfair, and the residual anger and sense of irreproachability has lingered. Professionally, I'm working with a few people at work who are not subject-matter experts in what I do, and who remain reluctant to admit that. All of these smaller situations have combined, I think, to make me feel like I'm right more often than not - and I am right, in these specific situations.
Moral of the story though, in order to be effective in these scenarios, I'm going to have to put that in my back pocket and shut the eff up. I'm right, yes, but I don't know it all and I can't control others' response to the fact that I AM right. And in these scenarios, it's better to serve myself up a double helping of humble pie, acknowledge that there are other ways to get where I need to go, and bite my tongue rather than proving my point. This, for me, is anathema, which I've touched on before here; I take pride in my intelligence and grasp of what I do, and not using (let's be honest, flaunting) that expertise is hard for me. That said, it's a lesson I'm trying hard to take to heart, and hopefully having it down on "paper" here will help me adhere to that principle as effectively as possible.
Wish me luck, I guess?!