How To Know When You're Wrong (And What You Can Do About It)

We've all met a person who is always right, and we know how annoying they can be because they're often wrong. There's little that's more annoying than arguing with somebody who is clearly mistaken but won't admit it. The problem is, sometimes we're the one in the wrong and we don't realise it. Everyone has the capacity to become stubborn and unyielding, but also to notice when that happens and stop. Here's what you can do to recognise and admit fault when it is your own.

Image: Ding Yuin Shan.

Find The Common Denominator

When an argument arises, it generally isn't pleasant — especially when people are disagreeing with what you believe is right. But if they are correct and you are not, you're going to see these arguments resurface again and again in different forms. You'll continue to believe you're correct, but others will try new things to change your mind. If you notice you're repeatedly making the same argument again and again, you're the common denominator in this situation.

If you make the discovery that the problem is consistently revolving around you, it's time to consider that you may be wrong. Look at why you're making the argument you're making and try to look at it objectively. Does it make sense, or are you just holding on to it because you don't want to let go of your idea? When we become emotionally invested in an idea we have a very hard time letting it go even if the idea is terrible.

Every time you have an argument, the best thing you can do is look at why that argument happened. You might not discover the reason initially, but if you make a habit of considering why you might be at fault (in addition to considering the other possibilities), you'll be more likely to see when you are actually the one who is wrong.

Look At A Situation's Potential Outcomes

Right and wrong are a matter of opinion, or a product of hindsight. They really don't exist outside of our opinion of the current moment or as an analysis of the past. When you're considering what's right, you sometime have to look more towards the desired outcome rather than your personal beliefs.

For example, your own convictions may lead you towards the argument that it's always wrong to kill a living creature. But let's say the death of one goat could prevent a small village from starving. Would it be wrong in that case? Some might argue it is still wrong because it can't sustain a village who will ultimately starve, and others will argue that it is right because it will preserve more life.

This is not the sort of situation you're likely to come upon in your daily life, but it illustrates the point: your beliefs are just your opinions no matter what, but the outcome is where people tend to settle on what's right and wrong. If you're engaging in an argument and you're simply arguing what you believe, think about where your beliefs will lead. Do you like the outcome? Will your way lead to a better result, or will you simply uphold your ethics but create a poor result?

Any of the possible outcomes you imagine may not coincide with the beliefs that you hold. Be sure to consider this when asserting that you are in the right.

Image: Mike Baird.

Don't Try To Change Someone Else's Behavior

If you're trying to change someone else's behaviour, there's a big chance you're wrong. This is hard to accept because often times people will behave poorly, or at least not according to the way you feel they should conduct themselves. That said, while you can encourage people to change you are most likely taking the wrong approach by trying to change them.

As discussed in the previous section, consider the outcome. What do you want to gain by changing their behaviour? If your answer is "I want them to stop being mean" or "stop stealing my parking spot at work" or anything that's still about them, you are not looking deeply enough.

In the first example, what you really want is to be surrounded by people who appreciate you, so figure out a way that you can achieve that goal because you have control of it. You can choose to surround yourself with good people and spend less time with the mean ones. In the second example, you want to be able to park close to the door. Obviously you do want to ask the person who is stealing your parking spot to stop because they may just be unaware. But if the problem persists and they won't change, you need to consider alternatives.

Talk to the person who assigns the parking spots and find out if you can get another reserved spot for the person. If you prefer a more vindictive path, find out the building's towing policy. The point is to concentrate on things you can do to change your behaviour rather than insisting that the person is wrong. They may be wrong, but so are you if you're trying to force them to adhere to your beliefs. Nobody wins in that situation.

Image: Mindaugas Danys.

Consult The Facts

One an idea enters our minds it can be difficult to let it go. Not only do we seek out evidence that supports our existing beliefs, rather than making an attempt at objectivity, but we will defend that information even if we know it's incorrect. Scientific American points to a study that demonstrated this phenomenon:

Psychologists asked college students to read an account of an accident involving a busload of elderly passengers. The students were then told that, actually, those on the bus were not elderly. For some students, the information ended there. Others were told the bus had in fact been transporting a college hockey team. And still others were warned about what psychologists call the continued influence of misinformation — that people tend to have a hard time ignoring what they first heard, even if they know it is wrong — and that they should be extra vigilant about getting the story straight.

The important thing to remember is this: when someone tells you that you are wrong, you need to override your defence instinct and consider what they are saying. While there will be many times in your life when you'll be told that you're wrong when you are, in fact, right, that won't always be the case.

When someone makes you feel defensive, this is one of the most important times to consider what they are saying. You don't have to agree, and you might just discover that you really are correct after all, but being a little more self-aware can go a long way in avoiding a drawn-out, stubborn argument.

Image: Jon S.


Comments

    Pfft, this article is useless for me, I'm always right.

    And always refrain from raising your voice in an arguement....just because you can argue louder doesn't make you right!

    I feel that you may have failed to complete the psychology study relating to the aged hockey players on the bus. I'd like to know the ending.

    1. Establishes 'right' and 'wrong' are states of mind, not definitive fact.

    2. Continually uses the word 'wrong' in the rest of the article as definitive of incorrectness.

    Derp.

    Cantonese spelling always looks weird to me :)

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