icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-user Skip to content
Senior Correspondent

Everything Isn’t Always Right or Wrong

Everything Isn’t Always Right or Wrong


"It ain't what you know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." Mark Twain

Remember the true/false quizzes in school? They were usually timed, so you had to think fast. And ya either got it right or ya got it wrong. There was no time for indecision — no "Let's check the data" or "It depends." No room for situational analysis or any analysis, for that matter.

The all-or-nothing, true-false scoring system taught us more than we may realize. It taught many of us to make snap judgments and to be obsessed with knowing "the answers" rather than asking better questions. And we took those practices right into the workplace and perfected them. We're there to give answers. We need to be right, and we need to be quick — no time for facts or discovery. We need for others to know that we know.

We may listen, not to fully understand, but to agree or disagree. Once we make up our mind — true or false — we may direct our attention elsewhere. We may interrupt to press our argument, hi-jacking the airwaves and shutting the other person down. It's all in a day's work. Whether this describes you or someone you work with, you get the drift.

My company recently accepted the challenge of facilitating a consensus-building meeting around governance changes involving approximately 40 chapter trustees of a national trade organization. Representing their respective chapter at the national level, these individuals are also business owners and managers. They are very dedicated to their trade and volunteer their time, talents and treasure to strengthen their industry and create many well-paying U.S. jobs.

The recommended changes were rolled out for consideration and comment over a period of months, and the situation had become quite contentious. Disagreement filled the airwaves, paving the way for some pretty low expectations for the meeting we were to facilitate. Concerned that those low expectations could be a self-fulfilling prophesy, we were well prepared.

As we moved the group through the process, individuals were encouraged to express their position relative to the changes and share their supporting logic. It inevitably became clear that most, if not all, individuals were in agreement in principle or concept.

What we ultimately discovered was classic. What appeared to be large-scale disagreement turned out to be large-scale agreement with a few manageable disagreements about the details. As they say, the Devil's in the details. The group was actually having a challenge "managing agreement."  Once we helped them realize that, the course of action became very clear.

How often does this happen in your workplace? Your home? Your church or volunteer group? It's much easier to fixate on what we seem to disagree about rather than to dig a little deeper to find a place where we may just share a piece of common ground.

Sadly, we get busy making ourselves right, which in turn makes others wrong, which then creates a defensive environment, which quickly deteriorates into "Who Dunnit?" or the blame game. And then good and talented people feel the need to spend time, energy and creativity protecting themselves or their department from perceived attack rather than analyzing causes of problems and creating solutions.

It's all very sad and costly. The costs are most likely not tracked for this kind of circumstance, but the money pours right out of the organization, along with the commitment of those involved.

"You're either part of the solution or part of the problem." Eldridge Cleaver 

Stay Up to Date

Sign up for articles by Jeanne Gladden and other Senior Correspondents.

Latest Stories

Choosing Senior Living
Love Old Journalists

Our Mission

To amplify the voices of older adults for the good of society

Learn More