I learned a lesson in reflexes one day when hunting a lizard. I snuck up on it and grabbed it. It was startled and hauled ass. I was left holding a wiggling chunk of tail. By held, I mean it was in my possession long enough for me to realize that it was still moving. It took about 1/10th of a second. My parents asked me later if I had heard the little girl scream by the front door. I was too embarrassed to admit that it was me. The lizard’s reflexes kept his tail twitching. My reflexes shot his tail fifty feet into the air. Reflex is an unconscious reaction to stimuli as well as what I want to talk about.
I have a friend that thinks people don’t like her. She’s perceptive, people don’t like her. Whatever someone else might say, my friend will correct them automatically. I might say, “Hey did you know that the sky is blue?” She would reply, “Actually, it’s cerulean.”
My friend is afflicted with the righting reflex. She holds things she thinks true as absolute fact and must correct anything that is different. I was once telling a story that somehow involved the delicious Greek cucumber and yogurt sauce called, Tzatziki. My friend interrupted my story and immediately corrected my pronunciation. She thought that the way she pronounced it in her head was unerringly correct. She had never actually heard the word. She had only read it on a label. The fact that I lived in Greece for years was irrelevant. Often times the reflex is so engrained that actually being right is secondary.
There are a few reasons why people may be righters.
- They have good intentions and want to share what they know. Still annoying.
- They are products of an environment where being right, being heard and being validated had to be fought for. Still annoying.
- They are insecure. Still annoying.
It can be hard not to interject when someone is talking and you feel they aren’t exactly accurate with their info. I’m with you on that. That being said, it doesn’t matter if you are right because people will not like you if you tell them they are wrong.
This is true directly or indirectly through the righting reflex. Story-topping, correction, or offering why your way is better is a 2 by 4 to the face of positive communication. The righting reflex indirectly tells the other person that they are the second class citizen in the given conversation. It says:
- I believe that I know better that you do.
- I am more important than you.
- I find what you say invalid.
The rightee is always looking for an exit. There might be an appointment they just remembered. Maybe there is a migraine coming on. The lunch room gets quiet when the righter enters. Everyone becomes engrossed with words with friends or starts to pack up and leave. Conversations become monosyllabic in anticipation of being shut down. People turn and walk the other way at the grocery store. No one wants to lob one over the plate to give the righter the satisfaction of correcting them.
The ugly cousin and frequent companion of the righting reflex is the endowment effect. The endowment effect basically comes down to the ideas that:
1. The things I have are better than the things you have.
2. The things I do are better than the things you do.
3. The places I go are better than the places you go.
They are better only because the individual spouting info has a personal affiliation with them. I think that the fertilizer for this is insecurity.
I know a guy that is a beer aficionado. He is very proud of the awards he has earned based on the number of beers that he has consumed. I heard him snicker and say something derogatory to another beer snob about someone because they were drinking a Bud-Light. Because he thinks winning awards for beer consumption and beer snobbery are honorable traits, the endowment effect leads him to think everyone does. Most people don’t pride themselves on stunning feats of alcoholism. To most people he comes off as a tool. He has no idea.
My friend that people don’t like is really bad at this too. For instance: another friend made a comment on a delicious chicken breast that she made for dinner the previous night. She detailed how she cooked it in the oven with bread crumbs and how it was really good. My unlikeable friend didn’t miss a beat, she fired back, “I fry the chicken with the breadcrumbs, it is waaaaay juicier and the crumbs stick, it’s a lot better than baking it.” In one swoop she boasted that her way was better and invalidated the other person. Lunches are very short and very quiet when she is around.
Another example of the endowment effect happened when discussing fitness with a friend of mine. He asked me where I got a treadmill I had recently purchased. I told him Wal-Mart. He went on to tell me about how I should get one like his because it was better and it cost over a thousand dollars. “You don’t want a Wal-Mart treadmill,” he said, “It won’t last.” I did want a Wal-mart treadmill in fact, that’s why I bought one. My four hundred dollar one lasted just fine. Unfortunately it was mostly to hang clothes on.
The same guy once told me how I was crazy, to order a sirloin at a restaurant. “That’s what hamburger’s made of,” he said. “I get the ribeye, that’s the best cut of meat for a steak.” I like ribeyes too, don’t get me wrong. I shared one with my daughter last night. Because he fancied a ribeye, he thinks it is the best option for everyone. There is no need to take into account that on that particular day I wanted the leanest cut of meat. It is healthier and I just needed a vehicle to slather an entire bottle of A-1 onto.
A huge problem with the endowment effect and the righting reflex is they don’t take into account other people’s perspective, experience or knowledge.
I am not a wine guy. Wine tastes like rotten grapes, but worse. I do know wine needs to breathe for maximum benefit. I guess the interaction with oxygen makes it taste like rotten grapes, only a little better. I think popping the cork starts the process and swirling wine in the glass helps too. Conversation is similar to wine. It needs to breathe. When you respond with the righting reflex, you deny it the opportunity. Instead of allowing oxygen into the mix, you are corking the bottle.
As I mentioned, people are not grateful if you correct them; they are resentful. On one hand, righting them will shut the conversation down. On the other, listening to gibberish or things you disagree with make that conversation no bueno for you.
An opportunity to learn a new communication skill you are surely asking?
If you are a habitual righter, people want to run from you. Why? Because you are a know-it-all and it is all about you.
Bottom Line – this goes for all communication: people want things to be about THEM, not you. Make things about them, even when you disagree. It makes them feel engaged. Once they are engaged, then you can talk about you.
Let’s revisit the scenario I mentioned earlier: A young lady is proudly recounting last night’s chicken breast. She might detail how she cooked it in the oven with bread crumbs and how it was really good. My unlikeable friend could have replied, “That sounds amazing, it is so hard to make chicken that isn’t dry, I will have to try your recipe.”
Does the other person feel good about her statement? Yes!
It’s all about her chicken, her defenses are still down and she is still engaged.
Ms. Obnoxious could then say, “I usually fry my chicken in breads crumbs and that really comes out well, too.”
It is two sided. The righter gets to talk about herself with out shutting down the other person. Nobody is reaching for their phone to browse Facebook in awkward silence. No one just remembered they left the stove on and had to go home. Even better no one will roll their eyes the next time that Ms. Know-it-all enters the room.
If you are afflicted, try this:
- Process what you hear for a beat
- Resist the urge to right, story-top or tell how you’re better
- This will require you to stifle every fiber in your body that wants to correct the speaker because they are so wrong and you are so right
- Validate the other person’s statement
- That’s interesting…, I never knew that…, I hear what you’re saying…, Whaaaaaaat… that sounds cool…, How did it work for you…
- Listen… listen… listen
- Offer your take
- I always thought that…, Your way sounds amazing…, I do that a little differently…, Hmmm, I may have been doing that wrong, here’s what I do – what do you think?
Here is the take-away: resist the urge to correct things people say or to tell them the way you do it. EVEN WHEN SOMEONE IS WRONG! Learn to listen and validate and then offer an opinion gracefully.
It takes practice.
Sadly, I know the worst righters think they are doing the rest of us a favor and won’t recognize the problem. Such is life. For the rest of you, think about it, pay attention and take a step forward. If it burns you up inside to let someone go on with their life being wrong, especially in trivial matters, give me a call. We might need to talk.