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Does Your Work Depend On You Being Right? (WHAT ARE THOSE?!)

  Steve Longan     Oct 07, 2015

depend on you being right what are those.jpg

In today’s Wireboard article, I want to:

  • tell you a fun story about my son (Henri);
  • do a public service to make sure you’re up on youth culture;
  • most importantly, talk about whether or not our felt need to be right is actually growing our work. 

Henri and youth culture

My son, Henri, is seven years old and just started second grade.  He loves people and he loves making people laugh (kind of like his old man, in that way). The other day, he ran through the front door laughing, dropped his school backpack and walked straight to me.

 

Henri (smiling and looking excited): Hey, Dad….

Me (smiling back): Yes, Henri?

Henri: I’ve got one question for you….

Me: Yes?

Henri (points at the ceiling, then bends over, points at my shoes and yells): WHAT ARE THOOOOOHHHSE?????!!!!!

 

Now, in order to understand what Henri was doing here, you should probably do a little research on this new fad of footwear shaming. (For those who don’t want to click the link, it’s like planking or Tebowing, but with shoes and making fun of people.) http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/what-are-those

 

 

nike-waffle-racer-vintage-collection-1

But here’s the thing: I know that Henri doesn’t understand how the meme actually works.  How do I know? you might ask.  Because, when Henri pointed at my shoes, I was wearing a pair of green throwback Nike Waffle Racers.

 

Cool shoes, right? My shoe game is tight, son. Never forget that.

So, in the moment, I had a choice:

  • Should I tell Henri that he doesn’t really understand how the joke works?
  • Should I tell Henri that it’s not kind to make fun of other people’s shoes, because they’re just wearing what fits them?
  • Should I tell Henri that my shoes are waaaaaay cooler than his shoes?

Essentially, all of these questions revolved around whether or not I needed to be right, and whether or not our relationship requires both of us to be right in the moment.  And this is a dynamic that is vitally important for growing our work and the culture we want to work in.

Being Right, Growth, and High-performance Culture

In our work — with clients, with colleagues, with tasks and projects — we are frequently confronted with the felt need to be right. And sometimes we do need to be objectively right — about things like deadlines (you’re either on time or not) or ethical/legal decision-making.  But here’s the big take-away for today’s article:

High-performance individuals and teams do not hold always being right as a possible — or even desirable — goal.

  • In a New York Times interview with Warby Parker Chief Executive Neil Blumenthal, he talks about how all executives are given brutally honest 360 reviews every quarter. These reviews aren’t just given to executives; every employee gets one every quarter. This practice is based on a habit that the four founders practiced with each other. It’s resulted in great corporate growth and an enviable culture at Warby Parker.  But the only way this growth is possible is if each person releases their need to be right.  Each person recognizes that their place and growth in the company does not require them to be right all the time.
  • At Rewire, we’re big fans of the work of Brené Brown. If you’re looking for a primer on some of her work, I’d recommend this TED talk she gave.  I’d also recommend this short article she did for Fast Company about how vulnerability fosters better leadership and corporate culture.  One of my important takeaways from this article is that the drive to always be right all but destroys vulnerability.  If we can’t be wrong, we create an environment where we’re going to spend increasing amounts of time and energy just trying to protect ourselves or deny the reality of when we miss the mark.

So, to close this article, I’d ask a few key questions.  Think about your work; think about your work relationships.  Are you making space for yourself to be wrong every now and then?  Can you mark off parts of your work where it’s not crucial for you or your colleagues to be precisely correct? Or have you declared it all crucial and there’s no room for anyone to be wrong?

 

My gentle suggestion is that we’ll grow faster, enjoy our work more, and enjoy our relationships with colleagues and clients more if we can stop seeing our drive to be right as an all-or-nothing proposition.

 

Please feel free to ask me questions or share your thoughts in the comments section or drop me a line.

 

P.S. Back to my story with Henri.  I decided to do none of the things I listed earlier in this article.  Figuring that Henri didn’t understand how the meme worked, but was still funny to him even without understanding it, I decided to turn it into a game almost like tag.  I started chasing him around the house pointing at parts of his body or clothing and yelling “WHAT ARE THOOOHHHSE?!” And then he did the same to me.  Only after we were both catching our breath from all the running and laughing did I explain the meme to him. And we decided to only do it with people who were family or friends, so that they would know that we weren’t really making fun of their shoes.

  Decision making Be Right Communication Organizations Release Work

Steve Longan

Written by Steve Longan

Steve Longan is Rewire's Director of Research & Program Development. He's passionate about leveraging psychology and communication to develop growing, healthy workplaces. He's at "peak zen" (his words) when he's in his music studio.

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