Being Right Doesn’t Matter – These 5 Things Matter More

It’s always disappointing to find this out for yourself in practice, so I thought I’d break the news now – just because you’re right about something, doesn’t mean you’ll get your way.

I know, I know – one of the reasons you became a lawyer was because you were “good at debating” or something.

Which means you might have a fairly high opinion of your opinion, even if it’s carefully cloaked behind a layer of office-appropriate fake humility.

So to help you along, let’s take a look at a few occasions where some other factors need to take priority over your “being right”.

Timing Matters

This one comes up in settlement negotiations regularly. It’s true that settling a dispute is often the commercially sensible way to go, and it’s true that many of your clients will spend more in legal fees than they should if a matter doesn’t settle early.

But, for a matter to settle, the factors that contribute to a successful negotiation often aren’t in place on day 1 of a matter. Or day 2. Or week 3. There have been many occasions where a matter has settled shortly before a trial that could, and probably should, have settled earlier. But my being right about that doesn’t mean that my client was going to listen to me, or that the other solicitor’s client was going to listen to them either.

This is the case for many things.

If I’m trying to persuade my boss to embark on a digital marketing campaign and they have serious reservations, then I’m unlikely to barrel in to their office to try and persuade them at 9:45am before a 10am hearing on a huge matter that has been causing them stress. Nor will I get anywhere by interrupting them in a meeting, or otherwise being insensitive to what they’re doing.

The timing simply isn’t right for me to get the outcome that I’m after.

Wisdom Matters

Of course, to determine the correct timing requires a degree of wisdom.

If you are right, then it’s important that you get your point across in a way that will be understood and appreciated by the person you are trying to convince.

But ask yourself this: is the topic at hand a matter of “right/wrong” or is it a question of “you/me”?

Are there variables you don’t understand? Is it an absolute decision or a strategic one? Is your experience or inexperience clouding your judgment?

The way you approach someone, communicate your message and attempt to persuade them to your way of thinking all require you to exercise good decision making, not just a bullish adherence to your opinion.

Persuasion Matters

A man convinced against his will, holds the same opinion stillClick To Tweet

Being right is irrelevant if you can’t convince anybody that you’re right, isn’t it?

Sure, you could just go home and sit quietly by yourself, occasionally patting yourself on the back as congratulations for how right you are.

But have you impacted anybody’s life for the better? Has your rightness changed the world? Has your planet sized brain actually done any good, or are you the only one who’s going to experience the totality of your awesomeness?

Respect Matters

Let’s clarify something at this point – “respect” doesn’t mean “grudgingly hold your silence but glare at the offending party behind their back”.

Respect means this: if somebody intelligent, informed and considered disagrees with you about something, you should pause before barreling on with your argument and think about their view.

This means listening. Properly.

Not just staying quiet while you think about what you’re going to say next, but actually listening.

Because they might be right.

And you might be wrong.

Trust Matters

At some point you’re going to realise a disturbing truth: words out of your mouth might be less persuasive then the exact same words out of a much more senior lawyer’s mouth.

It seems unfair, doesn’t it?

But it’s because of trust.

They have earned the trust of the audience.

The audience cares about what they say, and pays it due attention.

That’s trust.

And it matters.

Set Aside Being Right as the Objective

It’s time to forget about being right.

Forget debating.

Forget winning.

And start thinking about the bigger picture.

What do you think? Am I right? 😉

Happy Lawyering!

  • >