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How to Tell Someone They Are Wrong

Get tips on effectively telling your boss, client, or coworker that they are wrong.

By
Stever Robbins
June 30, 2009
Episode #089

Page 1 of 3

Today's topic is telling people they’re wrong.

Elizabeth writes in.

I work for a small company and we often contract work from larger companies to survive. Sometimes we deal with clients who are just plain wrong. How can you tell a superior, or in this case a client, that they are just plain wrong? (Without losing your job!)

Elizabeth, I like you! We share a common desire: we both like to let people know they're wrong, WRONG, WRONG!!!! And of course, that means we're right. I'm curious why you do it; I know why I do it. I was not popular growing up, and didn't do that normal stuff like bonding over cotton candy at the state fair, playing baseball in the vacant lot, and hanging out in our treehouse. My life was more about being chained to the bully's desk and forced to eat dog biscuits while doing her homework for her. Now to prove my worth, I love to make it clear that everyone else is wrong and I have the answers. I don't have any pets, but I still buy dog biscuits. I wonder if I should mention that to my therapist...?

Know Your Motivation

Before you let your client or your boss know they’re wrong, ask yourself why you care. If you think it’ll be risky, make sure you’re taking the risk for a good reason. Maybe you’re like me, and you just want to be right. If that’s it, please let me introduce you to my therapist. Next time you think they’re wrong, look your client, or your boss, or your teenager straight in the eye and say, “You could be right. Let’s do it your way.”

When your motive is pure ego, you’re setting yourself up to fail. If you doubt me, think about the last time you demanded your shmoopie-woopie go to your favorite restaurant for dinner instead of theirs. Even if you were right—heck, especially if you were right—how much groveling did it take to repair the relationship? If ego is the only thing compelling you to tell someone they’re wrong, hire a therapist and vent to them instead. One hundred twenty five dollars an hour is a bargain by comparison.

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