It’s Best Not to Be Right

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My wife Kristen and I went to the Jimmy Buffett concert in our hometown of Austin recently. We’re fans of his music and the laidback, beachy lifestyle that flows along with the music.

I didn’t know the person I was seated next to. We had only had surface level banter before the music began. Then, we were both into the show.

In the middle of the performance, he leaned over and asked me about one of Jimmy Buffett’s band members, Mac McAnally.

Seatmate: “Do you know what other band Mac is in?”
Me: “I know he has a solo career and writes a lot of music with people.”
Seatmate: “I think he’s in another band that’s pretty well known.”
Me: “Well, I know about his solo work and writing with other people, I’m not sure about another band.”
Seatmate: “Ok, I’ll look it up.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve been a fan of Jimmy Buffett and his band for over 30 years. The primary radio station that plays constantly in our home is Radio Margaritaville (Buffett’s station on SiriusXM). That’s been true for over 20 years. In addition to playing Jimmy Buffett, the station features the other music of his band members – especially Mac McAnally. I have a pretty good working knowledge of the discography of everyone in the band.

I know that Mac McAnally doesn’t play in any other band. I know he’s never played in another band professionally.

I could have very easily flexed my superior knowledge of Mac McAlley’s career, thus proving how much bigger of a fan I am. I could have educated my seatmate and pointed to my years of experience listening to Buffett and his bandmates as proof that Mac was not in another band. I could have shown my seatmate the error of his ways as it relates to Jimmy Buffett.

I chose not to do that. I didn’t need to feel right and I didn’t want to make him wrong. In the grand scheme, so what if his facts about Mac McAnally are incorrect? I felt it would be worse to make a complete stranger feel “wrong” and therefore “less than.” Allowing him to have incorrect facts about something like this inconsequential.

Plus, maybe he’s heard Mac McAnally sing with someone else (which there are many songs where he does) and thought it was a band. If that were the case, we’d be splitting hairs. We would both be compelled to defend our position and debate what a “band” is.

When we fight to be right, we make someone else wrong. In fact, the only way for us to feel like we’re right is for someone else to be wrong. That puts us at odds with another person and creates conflict.

This conflict creates anything from a paper cut to a full on gash in our relationships. It means we’re not listening to the other person because our way is right. Relationships are the single biggest indicator of long term happiness and health according to a famous Harvard study.

Plus, the need to be right sets us up for failure. If we feel the need to be right, create that identity and seek validation for our “rightness.” Guess what happens to our belief in ourselves when we inevitably are wrong? It’s like our balloon pops.

Instead, practice curiosity and grace. Instead of tamping down what someone else says if you don’t agree, listen curiously to see if there’s anything you can learn. Also, give others grace if they have a different perspective or have an incorrect fact. Especially if that fact does not really matter. 

By being curious and showing grace, you’re setting yourself up for stronger, happier, healthier relationships as well as a checked ego.

Near the end of the Jimmy Buffett concert my seat mate leaned over and we had this exchange:

Seatmate: “You were right.”
Me: “Oh yeah, about what?”
Seatmate: “Mac isn’t in another band. I was thinking of the Zac Brown Band.”
Me: “Oh, okay.”

The whole point of this entire article and story is summed up by what my seatmate said next. If you need validation to know that it’s best not to be right, look no further than how my seatmate responded to me not making him wrong:

Seatmate: “Thank you.”