Get People to Listen by Admitting You’re Wrong

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It was 2 pm last Thursday and the coffee next to my laptop was now medium-lukewarm.

My co-worker came walking towards me and he had this look on his face like he just saw a ghost. I knew he was coming to me to complain about something, but I wasn’t sure what it would be about.

“I have no idea what we have these meetings for, they are so inefficient.”

He said after having yet another meeting where he gained nothing, but some time to surf Facebook, Reddit, and maybe send off a couple emails.

“How come you don’t say anything?” I asked him.

I love asking people these questions and figuring out what is at the root of their problem.

He replied, “I just don’t want to be that guy.”

That guy? You mean, the guy that values his time, his opinion, and has confidence in what he believes?

Maybe the problem isn’t that he wants to be that guy, but really that he isn’t sure how to voice his opinion.

When you have something to say, but don’t say anything, you are actually putting other people’s feelings ahead of your own. When you think about it like that, it’s kinda dumb not to say something.  

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?” I asked him.

He was silent.

It’s interesting how this simple question can shift our perspective to push us just a little bit more out of our comfort zone.

On the other hand, holding in how you feel consistently just builds up a volcano mindset and you are bound to erupt at any moment.

This is what leads to passive aggressive behavior and makes people sporadically get upset. The real issue here is that many people just don’t know how to give constructive feedback.

They talk, talk, talk. Or give, you-should-do-this advice which frankly, no one likes.

A workplace with constructive feedback is a very valuable thing. My co-worker and my friend, just needed to know how to give his opinion.

Giving feedback is a two step process that should occur preferably face to face if possible and it starts by admitting you don’t know anything.

Introducing, the I Could Be Wrong script

The I Could Be Wrong script is about lowering their defenses just before you tell them how you feel. If you state that you could be wrong, that implies that you aren’t arrogant or a know-it-all, which is how many people (especially many software engineers) can come off.

Start off by asking if whoever you are giving feedback to is cool with it? Yes, you just actually ask them. It’s that simple.

Entering the I Could Be Wrong script

You: Hey [insert their name], do you mind if I give you some feedback?

[PAYAM’S ANALYSIS: Most people will let you give them feedback if you ask in this sort of fashion because you are being respectful to them and feedback gives them a chance to improve. Who doesn’t want to improve? ]

Follow up with, I could be wrong, but when you do [whatever they are doing] it makes me feel [insert how you feel].”

[PAYAM’S ANALYSIS: Explaining how you feel let’s them know how it’s affecting you. This is much better than telling them what they should do.]

Insert feelings about what happens to YOU. This could be as easy as:

I don’t feel like…my opinion matters

I don’t feel like…I’m part of the team

I don’t feel like…I’m listened to

If they ask you what they could have done, start the sentence off with perhaps.

You: Perhaps, if you tried doing [insert what they could have done], it would have been better.

[PAYAM’S ANALYSIS: Saying perhaps expresses that you are not certain, but that you are happy to resolve this. It’s just a friendlier tone.]

The last step is to just LISTEN.

After you say what you say, you stop and listen. You should not interrupt what they say after. You just gave your opinion and now give them that respect to say why they are doing what they are doing.

[PAYAM’S ANALYSIS: You never know, maybe they have a different perspective you didn’t think about? Maybe their boss wants them to do things a certain way and the decision to be flexible is not up to them?]

Analyzing the I Could Be Wrong script

It’s about you, not THEM.

By admitting you could be wrong, you are not being arrogant and you are lowering their natural defense mechanisms.

If you are giving feedback, you are showing them what they are doing and how it’s affecting you. None of this, ego driven I-have-more-experience than you advice.

The feedback will be better absorbed this way.

For many of you, this may be a new process. Telling someone they are doing something that you don’t agree with doesn’t come natural to a lot of people. It gets better with time.

In your conversation, try to make sure you don’t use the following words or phrases when giving feedback. These indirectly can come off hard to the recipient so exclude them from your sentences:

  • Never
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • You always
  • Why do you
  • I hate
  • Everyone says
  • Everyone thinks

When giving feedback it’s very important to pick your battles. If what you are dealing with is a small issue, it’s better to let it go than give constant feedback about your feelings.  

Action steps

That one thing that bothers you at work. I want you to address it with whoever is bothering you by using this script. Don’t hold it it anymore, just use the scripts, ask if you can give them feedback, explain how it makes you feel, then give some suggestions. Master this and your relationships with people will blossom.

Please leave a comment and let me know how it works out for you or see the 60 second video of this post.