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How To React When Someone Says You're Wrong (But You Know You're Right)

We’ve all been there: having a discussion with someone and they’re convinced you’re wrong about something, even though you know you’re right. Whether it’s trivial facts or serious issues, how you react to the accusation can turn the course of the whole conversation. Here’s how to do it right.

Picture: Shutterstock

To unravel the best way to deal with these conversations, I spoke with Roger S. Gil MAMFT, a mental health clinician who specialises in marriage and family therapy.

Check Your Own Argument Before You Get Into a Needless Disagreement

Just because you know you’re right it doesn’t mean getting into an actual argument is worth it. Sometimes, it’s best to just let things go. At the very least, before you set out to prove that you’re right, it’s good to check your own argument. Gil suggests you consider a few points before you even react.

  • Don’t get emotionally overwhelmed: When you’re opposed by someone, you have an emotional response. That’s normal, but Gil warns it’s best to keep yourself calm: “I like to tell people to be wary of passing a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 for a given emotion when engaging in disagreements.” Essentially, you don’t want to get into a heated debate, so you can’t react too aggressively.
  • It’s not always necessary to change someone’s mind: Sometimes it’s just plain not worth it to try and change someone’s mind. Unless an issue is serious, it’s occasionally best to just agree to disagree and move on.
  • Some issues are objective and others are subjective: With concrete issues (like the time, or the height of the tallest mountain), it’s very possible you’re right provided you have observable, objective facts. That’s not the case with subjective issues, and Gil notes that it’s a good idea to know the real difference between the two when someone says you’re wrong: “We have to remember that opinions are usually based on a set of assumptions that are likely unique to the individual. Your “rightness” (no matter how certain you are of it) may really be nothing more than a reflection of your values rather than a reflection of observable facts.”
  • Your relationship should dictate how you respond: When a friend or family member says you’re wrong about something you know how to temper your response because you’ve known them for a long time. When it’s a stranger, or worse, a boss or co-worker, it’s important to weigh the usefulness of a response. If your boss is vindictive, it’s likely best to accept their wrongness and move on if you want to keep your job (unless their wrongness is a danger to you or your company).
  • Make sure you’re really correct: It seems obvious to you that you’re right, but that doesn’t mean you’re not making assumptions. Gil says, “The assumptions that lie at the root of our views will be the weakest points so make sure you know why you made those assumptions too.” Whatever you think you’re right about, prove it without making assumptions.

Once you’ve decided it’s actually worth reacting when someone says you’re wrong, it’s time to formulate that response in a way that’ll actually get your point across. Picture: David Sim.

Respond In Ways That Won’t Kill the Conversation Immediately

When someone says you’re wrong, they think they’re right. When you both think you’re right, it’s two egos clashing and that means you want to handle the whole process as carefully as possible.

Control Your Non-Verbal Cues

The last thing you want to do when someone says you’re wrong is to accidentally convey something you don’t mean. Gil suggests you keep you nonverbal cues as simple as possible:

Your body language, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues should be as controlled as possible in order to maximise the odds that the other person will be receptive to your response and minimize the chance that you will be baited into a heated debate.

As we’ve seen before, your body language conveys a lot during presentations and job interviews. Body language is important in almost any situation. In the case of dealing with someone calling you out for being wrong, it’s best to just keep your body language as relaxed as possible so you don’t accidentally heat up the debate. Picture: Jaysin Trevino.

Show Respect And Understand Their Point Of View

You know you’re right about something, but so does the person you’re talking with, so it’s important to show respect for a “wrong” opinion no matter what:

When trying to defend our perspectives we need to respect the other opposing view if we are to expect the other person to respect our views and possibly change their mind. While snark and sarcasm can be funny, they usually turn others off to our perspective, they can sometimes become a form of bullying, and usually do more to demonstrate our lack of understanding the opposing view than demonstrating it’s “wrongness”.

Respect is just part of how you should respond though. If you actually want to react and convince someone you’re right, you need to understand their viewpoint. Gil’s simple way of doing this? Ask “why?”

Ask “why” the person says you are wrong and repeat what they tell you to ensure you’ve captured their explanation accurately. Why? It shows empathy and is more likely to make the person more open to truly hear whatever you say (including your “ultimate counterpoint”). It also serves another purpose: you will be able to identify the assumptions they made when forming their opinion. Any good debater can tell you that debunking wrong opinions is easily done when one can successfully challenge another’s foundational assumptions.

Asking “why?” isn’t just beneficial to see why they’re saying you’re wrong in the first place, it’s also a handy way to make yourself look more interested in their opinion — even though you ultimately know you’re right. Picture: Paul Hart.

Be Willing to Change Your Mind

You might know you’re right when someone says you’re wrong, but that doesn’t mean you should shut out the possibility that you’re wrong. It’s only fair when you think you’re right and you need to convince someone they’re wrong that you accept you might be wrong too:

While you were certain you are right, there is a very real chance that you could be wrong (to not allow for this possibility is hubris). If we expect others to change their mind in the face of overwhelming evidence then we should be willing to do the same (regardless of how sure we are of ourselves). It’s the fair approach to take.

We’re wrong more often than we likely admit. More importantly, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has pointed out, the only way you’re always right is to change you’re mind a lot.

When all is said and done, it’s about choosing your battles wisely, and not wasting time when it doesn’t matter. If someone tells you that you’re wrong — that A Christmas Story is the best holiday movie, not Die Hard — then you have to decide whether it’s worth pursuing the argument or not. Debates are often fun when they’re worth your time, but they can also ruin a good relationship if you’re not careful. Picture: Elaine with Grey Cats.

Roger S. Gil is a mental health clinician who specialises in marriage and family therapy. To get more from Roger, you can follow him on Twitter and check out his podcast.


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