(it actually took me more than a ‘day or two’ to post this but at least I wrote it on Jan 16.)
I’m a day or two late for the weekly writing but I am on a 4:16 flight and might as well do it now 🙂 (after all, this flight only has satellite TV, no movies or internet).
I had an interesting 1:1 with my boss on Friday where she mentioned that she’s noticed that I often follow up interesting questions or observations with the phrase “but I could be wrong”. I’m not completely surprised to hear that feedback but I guess I’m surprised that it was noticeable enough to mention. And then I started wondering whether or not it was causing a problem – am I undermining my own value and impact? I know that if you keep telling people a story about yourself (“Oh, I never finish things” or “I tend to jump to conclusions”) they will eventually internalize that as fact, even if you aren’t any more prone to that than other people are. I try to be really self-aware about things I want to work on improving like that and I’m very comfortable sharing those types of thoughts, but it’s important to remember that sometimes, hearing you say that is all the other people get to experience.
I thought some more about it on the weekend and caught myself using it in a conversation with Bill. I realized that I have, historically, felt a strong need for everyone to reach logical agreement on things they didn’t agree on. I believed that if we could just get everyone’s assumptions and values out in the open, we could at least identify the source of the discrepancy, even if people weren’t interested in changing those assumptions. I wanted to ‘debug’ the conversation to understand where the disconnect was happening.
But … that’s not how everyone else wants to communicate. Some people aren’t as interested in that and feel like that kind of interaction is confrontational. One thing I’ve heard from people before is that I can come across like needing to ‘win’ or ‘to prove that I’m right’. And that’s led to some strife. So as part of generally lightening up and learning to let go of things that don’t matter that much, I think I started using “but I could be wrong” as a signal that it was ok with me to just drop it. A clear mark of willingness to disengage (although I’d still love to keep probing and figuring things out if they were keen!)
It may be that that verbal habit has overgrown its usefulness though – it might be bleeding into areas where it does more harm than good. I definitely appreciate the observation and am going to try to keep an eye on that habit to make sure it’s not causing ambiguity or confusion on my team.