Bluto: Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
Otter: [whispering] Germans?
Boon: Forget it, he’s rolling.
In that scene from the classic management film, Animal House, Boon could have let Otter correct Bluto’s mistake, but he wisely kept his eyes on the bigger picture and let it slide. He was exhibiting the kind of behavior that many more experienced executives would do well to emulate.
One of the major obstacles to personal influence and persuasive communication is the need to win, and its close counterpart, the need to be right. I see it often in my coaching engagements, and Marshall Goldsmith says it is the number one obstacle that he encounters among successful people.
It’s certainly not surprising. People who rise to higher levels are generally those with strong wills and ambition; their drive to win is a major factor that propels them up the ladder. Plus, the higher they rise, they tend to be “right” more often, so they become uncomfortable with letting others win.
The need to win is not always as overt as the person who can’t stand to lose an argument. It can be far more subtle. For example, I just had a reminder myself a few minutes ago. I asked a friend to recommend a few books on a particular topic I’m working on; one book that he recommended, I told him I already read it. What I should have just said, was “thank you”.
While it may be tremendously ego-affirming, there is always a price to be paid to always be right or to always be the smartest person in the room. Others may concede your point, but are far less likely to walk away from the conversation with an enthusiastic commitment to your idea. Or, they may simply pretend to agree just to get out of there, after which they will do whatever they wanted anyway. Or, even supposing you give them a brilliant solution to their problem, it’s like giving them the answer key when they try to solve a math problem; they won’t truly learn the lesson unless they work it out themselves.
The cure is not to try to stamp out the need to win; it’s too much a part of who you are. The best way to handle it is to continue winning, but to change your definition of what winning is. Do you want to win the conversation, or win something bigger? The bigger wins are usually better relationships, more effective learning, and real commitment. What’s the bigger win?
By keeping your eye on the bigger win, you can still “win” the conversation, because everything you concede in the short run is an investment in the long run.
So, before you let that automatic comment slip out, ask yourself, what’s the bigger win, and will this comment help?