Too Right Makes a Wrong…

Have you ever felt that you HAD to be right about something? When the local radio station reads their daily trivia question, do you rush to the phone to be the first caller with the right answer? When someone misquotes a famous saying, gets a fact or figure wrong or makes a mistake, do you feel a need to jump in and correct them? I know I have. rightwrong

Back in elementary school, my fifth-grade teacher had a ‘word of the day’ contest – I was a bright kid, but I always looked forward to getting the right answer first. It was rewarding to me, but probably bothered the heck out of the other kids in the class.

At Ball State college orientation, they held a ‘Name That Tune’ contest with two teams of 4 students…and 4 parents. Out of 25 songs, the parents answered two. I guessed (correctly) ALL 23 other songs…some before the first note finished. I felt great! Everybody else was just annoyed.

As I got older, I realized that these types of contests were meant to be enjoyed by EVERYONE, not just to show that one person knew all the answers….and nobody likes a know-it-all. (Trust me on that one). What I found was that these things were more enjoyable if I let others jump in….let them have fun, too. It also caused a lot less resentment after the fact.

I learned early on that nobody likes to be wrong. Sounds simple. I also learned that NOBODY likes to have it pointed out that they’re wrong, especially in front of other people. Have you ever seen that happen? Have you been in a meeting where someone makes a statement….then someone else immediately jumps in to point out the flaw in their argument? It’s one thing to disagree, but it’s very demeaning to have someone else call you stupid…even if they don’t use that word.

I found that out first hand. I was working with a large software company, trying to integrate their application with one of our enterprise apps. We had done a lot of business with the company – they spent well into 8 figures with us over the previous 3 years.

After working for months without success, I asked for a meeting with their technical and account team to see if we could get to the bottom of the issue and find a path forward. In the meeting, I thanked them for coming in, and said – ‘We’ve been working with you for months, and you’ve told us several times that our issues would be resolved in the next release. We’ve just upgraded to version 7.1, and we STILL have the same issue.’

Before I could finish the sentence, their lead engineer cut me off, and said, ‘You’re wrong – it’s not version 7.1, it’s version 7.01!’

After a long pause, I said, ‘You’re absolutely right. We upgraded to version 7.01, not 7.1. But the problem is still there.’ I thanked the team for their time, asked to set a follow-up, and ended the meeting.

According to an engineer on my team, he said, ‘You didn’t say anything….but you looked like you were going to strangle the guy.’ He was right. I was absolutely livid that the engineer felt that the first priority was to point out that I was wrong. I also knew that the software company was missing the point. We didn’t care what version we were on, we just wanted it to work.

At that point, I walked down the hall to my CIO’s office, and said, ‘This application hasn’t worked right for months. We can either spend more money and time making it work, or we can pull the plug. I think we’d be better off cutting our losses and going in another direction.’

He agreed, and we called up their competitor, who had their software up and running in 6 weeks.  The first company lost our business. Was it because of their integration issues? Mostly. Did the engineer also cause us to pull our business? Absolutely. Nobody wants to be told that they’re wrong, even when it’s the truth.

The engineer was absolutely right in quoting the version numbers, however, being TOO right..can make a wrong.

What about you? Have you ever been TOO right about something? Have you ever had a mistake pointed out in front of others? What are some of your experiences?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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