Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Being right — or believing we’re always right — can become an addiction. Whether we believe in our superior instincts, logic or intellect, confirming our beliefs boosts our ego and gives us confidence in ourselves in an insecure world.
But here’s the twist: the key to being respected for being right is to admit when you’re wrong. Understanding when you’ve made the wrong call can make you more effective leader and coworker.
According to recent Duke University research comprised of four studies, “intellectual humility” may have an impact on how you make decisions. What is intellectual humility? It’s defined as “the degree to which people recognize that their beliefs might be wrong.”
A real-world example of why being ‘right’ doesn’t get you further
Sometimes, being tough to work with may even jeopardize your job.
Facebook engineer Andrew Bosworth detailed how his job depended on his capacity to start being a being a better coworker in a blog post. He wrote about how he was the only engineer keeping Facebook’s newsfeed running, but one of his peers, who was “CTO at the time,” told Bosworth that he wouldn’t be continuing to work on it. The reason: Bosworth was known for being hard to work with, always insisting on doing things his way and giving no room for others to express their opinions.
Bosworth wasn’t fired, but was forced to work in a new capacity at Facebook because of how he treated others.
“The realization hit me hard. In short, I thought my job was to be right. I thought that was how I proved my worth to the company. But that was all wrong. My job was to get things done and doing anything meaningful past a certain point requires more than one person. If you are right but nobody wants to work with you, then how valuable are you really? How much can you realistically expect to accomplish on your own? I was “winning” my way out of a job one argument at a time,” Bosworth wrote.
So you might want to consider thinking twice before acting like you’re always right at work. It may cost you that promotion.
Hear out your coworkers
Does your manager know that listening to others is an effective way to manage a company?
The study’s lead author, Duke professor Mark Leary, said many bosses believe they’re right, to the detriment of their teams.
“If you’re sitting around a table at a meeting and the boss is very low in intellectual humility, he or she isn’t going to listen to other people’s suggestions…Yet we know that good leadership requires broadness of perspective and taking as many perspectives into account as possible,” Leary said in the write-up.
Leary also told Duke that people with intellectual humility may have strong views, but acknowledge that they are not always right and are open to others demonstrating why they’re wrong on topics both larger and smaller in scale.
Religion as a test for intellectual humility
According to the write-up, in one study, participants read essays that were pro-religion and anti-religion and then evaluated the personality of each author. Those who were less certain about religious beliefs showed better judgment in evaluating other kinds of evidence.
“Study 2 revealed that participants high in intellectual humility were less certain that their beliefs about religion were correct and judged people less on the basis of their religious opinions,” according to the study.
People who exhibited intellectual humility during the research “did a better job evaluating the quality of evidence — even in mundane matters,” according to the write-up.