top of page

The Difference Between Being Right and Doing What’s Right

The Difference Between Being Right and Doing What’s Right

As a coach, I can recall many times hearing others say they do what’s right but then go out of their way to be right. I know how this can become a problem because I am guilty too. I have dug my heels into the ground to make whatever was being discussed about me being right. If you had asked me at the time, I might have said I was doing what’s right, but I was on a mission to prove I was right.

So, what is the difference between doing right versus being right? On the surface, they appear to be similar, but they couldn’t be more opposite. Doing right is about recognizing the needs of a situation above the needs of your own. It includes you, but it is not about you. It’s about being curious, listening, learning and finding the best solution, not your solution. It requires time and effort and often sometimes a lot of both. On the contrary, being right is making a situation about yourself, showing or proving to others that what you think and know is right. It takes less time and effort, limits possibilities and restricts participation and contributions. It’s like closing a door versus opening a door. It’s the difference that makes the difference. Right?

When we are committed to being right, it’s like we are being challenged to a duel and ready to defend our honor knowing there will be a winner and a loser. I see it in board rooms, living rooms, between co-workers, teams, friends and family. The need to be right can take us on a journey to a place where nobody wins.

On the other hand, when we commit to doing right, we show up as our best selves. We create a positive and cohesive environment where there is no winner or loser, only success.

Let’s say we are having a discussion with a co-worker and what the co-worker is saying is not right. What do we do? Do we pull out your sword and challenge them to a duel? We may know what is right but what is the right thing to do?

Let’s hit the pause button and have a closer look. If we are right, the other person must be wrong, right? If we prove the other person wrong, how will it make them feel? Possibly foolish, bad or worse? If our goal is to make people feel foolish then we must draw our sword and let them have it. If, on the other hand, our goal is to make people feel good, we might benefit from an alternative approach. We might consider accepting the loss and offering the victory. Perhaps a smile or nod. But what if what they are saying could negatively affect the organization or the people around them? What if knowing the right answer is important for them and their role? What’s the right thing to do?

How about asking a question? For example:

  1. How do you know XXX is the right answer? WARNING: this question must come from a good place. Being curious invites discovery, otherwise we may be poking a bee’s nest and bees are known to sting when challenged.

  2. Yes, and I am wondering if YYY could also be true, what do think?

  3. You may be right, and I am wondering what else is possible?

These are a few possibilities and there are many more.

The next time we are challenged to a duel, we might consider the following: be open, try to see their perspective, recognize what they are saying, support their view before introducing our ideas/solutions /answers. If we want the other person to feel good, what must we say, and more importantly, how must we say it?

Reminder: When we are right the other person is wrong. When the other person is wrong, how do they feel? When they feel that way, how will they perform? How will their feelings impact their attitude and willingness to contribute and support others? Do we think we will get more or less from others when we make them feel that way?

On the other hand, what happens when we surrender, offer the win, support and help them feel good? What happens next? How will they perform? How likely are they to support others, contribute and go above and beyond? What must we give up in order to have this and are we willing to do it?

It’s possible we all struggle with having the need to be right. I don’t know why it is and maybe it has something to do with being recognized, acknowledged or appreciated. I can’t say it doesn’t feel good and maybe giving it feels better than having it. What about you? Would you rather give or get? Would you rather do right or be right?

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

How about the next time a colleague draws his/her sword, we keep ours where it belongs, and we do what’s right?


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page