How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The Need to Be Right
Most people have a need to be right. Whatever they say, they want it to be true and for other people to accept it as being true. At the very least, they want to avoid appearing wrong.
For this purpose, one of two strategies tend to be used. One way is to strongly assert things we say to be true, sending an unspoken message that we will not tolerate challenge. The other way is to use qualifiers in what we say, for example saying something 'might' happen so when it does not, we can say we did not say it would happen.
People often have difficulty in handling challenges. When others question their assertion of truth, showing a lack of full agreement or challenging what is said, then there is a marked tendency to fall into coping activity. This can range from ignoring the challenge to offering a long and detailed 'proof', spoken in a way that implies further challenge will be most unwelcome.
A mother tells her son that his bedroom is untidy. When the son says there's nothing wrong with it, she snaps back 'I say it's untidy, so it's untidy!'
A salesman tells a customer than a car is very reliable. When the customer says she's read a report that the model has had problems, the salesman shifts uncomfortably and says 'Well, you can't always believe what you read.'
A couple argue often. They visit a counsellor who helps them realize they are not listening because they are each afraid the other person may be right and that they are wrong.
Being right helps our sense of control. Being wrong shakes this basic need. When others declare us wrong, we will often simply assert they are wrong in return and a 'who is right' debate ensues. Being right or wrong can affect our status when others change their esteem for us based on whether they consider us knowledgeable and authoritative or not. Unsurprisingly, this leads again to us seeking to be thought right by others, even when we are not sure if we are right ourselves.
Being right is often associated with specific roles, such as teacher or parent. This can cause problems where, for example, a teacher feels they should know everything and ends up asserting things which are incorrect.
Qualified language is typical of older people who have found through experience that very little is certain. It is also useful in giving a way out should they be proved incorrect.
Be careful about what you assert as true when this may be challenged, particularly by people who hold different views and who will feel you are attacking them. You can also deliberately assert something as right in order to boost your social position, particularly if you are able to defend your argument and persuade others to your view.