Fastest Way To End A Conflict When Someone Says You’re Wrong
I have a story to tell today. But first, I have an unusual question for you.
What if there was a way to actually increase your influence when someone tells you you’re wrong!?
Opinions about who is right and who is wrong serve as the foundation for most verbal conflict specifically, and most of what’s difficult in relationships in general. That’s why I often say that if you have to be right, you’re doing it wrong!
So here’s the idea. The next time someone tells you you’re wrong, if you want to gain influence, the shortest and simplest course of action is to simply agree with them! Say, “You’re right, I’m wrong.” And then define how they are right in a way that serves your desired result.
For example, let’s say that I said something which, in spite of my good intentions, somehow offended you. And, just as night follows day, the result is that you accuse me of being offensive. Experience of being in this very situation has taught me that the simplest thing to say is, ‘You’re right. I’ve clearly offended you, and I apologize, because that wasn’t what I intended.” The beauty of this approach is that you don’t have to agree with the accusation, or say something you don’t mean. You simply meet people where they are, and acknowledge their perception to be right for them, and apologize for them having their perception. “Hey, I’m sorry. That is not what I meant to have happen.” And it’s over.
Unless you want to take it somewhere else. Because just it can be helpful to clear your palette before tasting something new, an apology clears the relationship palette so people can hear something new.
Example: The conference costume party
I was once asked at a big company sponsored conference costume party to announce the awards for best costume, worst costume, etc. The V.P. of the company asked me to give an unannounced award for the ‘sexiest’ costume. (That might not have been the exact category, but I sure as heck don’t want to risk offending you by writing about the experience!) I didn’t give this costume category much thought. In what Robert Cialdini would call a ‘click-whirrrrr’ automatic response, I did what I was asked, and my first thought came after, when i thought that was the end of it.
Well guess what? Someone at the event took offense at the prize and the category, and the next day, as the conference was ending and people were trading hugs and business cards, in that Kodak moment that happens at the end of a successful conference, I was cornered and accosted by that offended person.
She proceeded to call me every name in the book. And I, of course, defended myself, because, hey, that wasn’t my intent. She would have none of it. My efforts to explain myself seemed to set her off more and more, until she was yelling at me and everyone was staring. Her feelings of being offended transferred to me, because now I was deeply offended by her accusations. Angrily, defiantly, I spit out the words, “I don’t care what you think!” and walked away.
Now, I’m sure you can tell that when a person says those words with anger, that they actually do care what the person thinks. Otherwise, they wouldn’t feel so defensive. And as I walked away, it slowly dawned on me that I had other choices besides defending, explaining and justifying my behavior.
The simple response would have been to say, “Wow, you’re right, clearly I offended you. And I am deeply sorry. That wasn’t my intent.” It would have been over immediately. And it would have ended the conflict in a way that she might be able to see me in a new way. I might even have followed up with, “Can I tell you what happened? It’s important to me that you know!”
Ok, I told you what happened, and what’s important for me to know from you is what you think about all this! Your comments are welcome!