Do you want to be Right or Effective? | Right vs. Working

Do you have a need to be right? I’ll admit, by default, I do. I have to be right. If anything, this post is me saying, “Hi my name is Matt and I have an obsession with being right.”

Do you want to be right or effective?

The cost of needing to be right is…everything. If you must be right, you will lose everything. (Tweet that)

I knew there was a reason I kept all of my journals for all these years and now I know why. I recently found a note that rocked my world. It said:

Would you rather be right or would you rather be effective?

That’s all.

Would I rather be right about who said what and when…or would I rather enjoy an evening of peace with my wife?

Would I rather be right about the perfect color for the office walls, backed up by a 10-year study…or would I rather let my team make a decision on their own?

The best example of right vs. working

To get a vivid picture of this concept at work, imagine you are in your car at a four-way stop. There are no other cars stopped at either of the other three signs. You have the right of way. But to your right, you see a car speeding furiously towards the intersection.

You have two choices:

  1. Claim your right.
  2. Do what works.

You have every right to go. You are in the right in every way. Legally, it’s your turn. And yet, you wouldn’t dare go. You allow the other car to break the law, stomp on your rights, and proceed to report him to the police.

Why?

Why, in that extreme context, do you give up your rights and allow others to wrong you? Perhaps because the alternative is death? Perhaps to protect others in the car? Or is simply a choice you make to value your wholeness (life) over your demise (death)?

In that moment, being right is not even a consideration. It never crosses your mind.

The cost of being right

Prior to this, I never realized how extremely insane it is to need to be right. I thought, “I am right. You must be wrong.” And I set out to prove it at all costs.

“At all costs” is not an exaggeration. I have sacrificed potential friendships, my integrity, money, important relationships, and ultimately my own peace and health…just to be right.

In short, I am the one who lost. I am the one who’s been wrong. I am less of a man today as a result.

And for what…just my own pride.

That is the cost of needing to be right. Everything. If you must be right, you will lose everything.

I don’t think it’s extreme to suggest that if I had continued down that path, I would have lost everything and everyone that meant anything to me.

So what about you? Do you have to be right? If so, what can you do to change that?

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  • mmodesti

    Brings to mind the old phrase, “would you rather be right? Or would you rather be married?”

    BTW, the first sentence is missing a word, I think. That is, I think I’m right about that!

    • That’s a good one!

      And thanks for the heads up on the typo.

  • LadyMcKermit

    oh so true!! I honestly am working hard on the phrase “I don’t know” I love your statement.. “Would I rather be right or would i rather be effective” Excellent podcast!

  • Katherine Leicester

    Part of me wants to be flip and say “It’s not that I need to be right. I am right.” So now I’ve said it, and made myself giggle a little. Good start to the day, and all as a result of your post, Matt.

    I struggle less with having to be right than just having to have things my way, whether I’m right or not. This, too, is something less than mature, and it’s not the type of person or leader I want to be. So, darnit, if I want to be better, apparently I have to change.

    No one told me this.

    • Haha. I think I tried that with my wife once. “I don’t think I’m right, I AM right..” Ya, I lost…

      • Katherine Leicester

        Ah, yes, the eternal wisdom of experience. Yow.

  • One of the best signs of maturity is the ability to see things from another person’s perspective. Sometimes both views are right, just different. It takes some thought to sort through options – Could the other view be right? Does it matter? Is this a salvation issue? Is this just a matter of taste? Can I concede for the sake of peace without becoming one of those dreaded “people pleasers”? Am I just engaging in a power struggle? Do I just dislike this person? If I give in, will I become a doormat?

    Another terrific post, Matt! I am perpetually astonished by the thoughts you share so articulately and honestly with your readers. Thank you!

  • My wife says I have to be right sometimes…and she’s probably right.

    I try to curb that, but I do have the tendency.

    It’s never good. Hen you insist on being right–even if you are right, you lose.

    I love the analogy! That paints a great picture of this need to be right!

    Thanks Matt!

  • Laura Johnson

    When there’s a difference in opinion, my default is to explain myself and try to understand why the other person holds the view they do. Then I weigh the natural results/consequences of what I choose to do next–taking a stand or compromising–and go from there.
    I guess I’ve seen too many people lose relationships, health, peace of mind, and more because of their “need” to be right.
    Good to know that some need-to-be-right people can turn out right in the end, Matt 😉

    • That is a great way to do this Laura…ask why and seek to understand why.

  • lulu

    I like to be right – and I work hard to be so.
    I know I can’t be right all the time – and that is where learning comes in. I feel being right has a bad rap. Someone has to be right – and if that someone is the person who read the rules, the manual, attended the meeting, read the Word – then they are most likely right. Often those that take the time to get it right become the leaders. We do not follow those that get it wrong – we choose to follow those that get it right. It gives us confidence. It is like being tested – proven. Yes – we cannot be right all the time. Like Jana alluded, it goes through our experience and filters and we need to weigh out the outcome. Yet I feel we often put aside what we know is right to display false humility. I joke with my husband saying, “Sure we can do it your way, or we can do it my way and get it right the first time!”. Relax – he laughs. He knows that I bow to his expertise in areas, and he knows I have proven to be correct in my areas. We’ve been married long enough to know and see that.
    One statement you made Matt is that you have sacrificed your integrity just to be right. I’m confused how those match up. If we are right, right in material, right in motive, right in the Word – how can that be?
    I like to think that what I do and how I do it is right. This helps me move forward. If someone can show that I am wrong – or there is a better way – bring it on. I can only improve by embracing new and better ways. Then I will move forward in my “new right” until proven wanting.
    Yes – I like to be right.

    • The short version to answering your question is that I was willing to go to great lengths to be right, including lying.

  • Kirbie Earley

    To me, this is a bigger issue than just being right. I find myself to be a horrible listener. I am striving to become so much better at it, and I somehow think that the two are linked. If we think we need to be right, rather than listening to the other person’s point of view we are formulating our rebuttal. This puts my listening problem in new perspective!
    Thanks!

    • Great point Kirbie! I’ll admit I do the exact same thing.