Most people associate shame or loss of power with being wrong. Ever feel yourself getting defensive?When your meeting participants turn defensive, especially when they feel they are losing ground, neurochemistry hijacks the brain. Because they are addicted to being right, the amygdala, our instinctive brain, takes over. With a focus on being right, participants are unable to regulate emotions or handle the gaps between expectations and reality.
“In situations of high stress, fear, or distrust the hormone and neurotransmitter cortisol flood the brain. Executive functions that help us with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shut down.”
Scientific studies suggest four responses that every facilitator should expect from meeting participants, namely:
- Fight (keep arguing the point),
- Flight (revert to, and hide behind, group consensus),
- Freeze (disengage from the argument by shutting up)
- Appease (make nice with your adversary by simply agreeing with him)
Addicted to Being Right: Restoring Balance
Without facilitation (especially active-listening and challenge), the four responses lead to sub-optimal results because they prevent the honest and productive sharing of information and evidence-based proof.
Some suggest that “Fighting” is the most common and most damaging. Can you imagine a professional fight without a referee? Of course not, and the facilitator is the meeting referee. Understand that “Fighting” is chemically driven:
“When you argue and win, your brain floods with different hormones: adrenaline and dopamine, which makes you feel good, dominant, even invincible. It’s the feeling any of us would want to replicate. So the next time we’re in a tense situation, we fight again. We get addicted to being right.”
When these dominating personalities are allowed to take over a meeting, they become unaware of the impact on people around them. While they are getting high from their dominance, others are being drummed into submission. Group dynamics undergo a strong diminishing of collaboration.
However, oxytocin can make people feel as good as adrenaline. Oxytocin is activated by connections and opens up the networks in our brains, driving from the prefrontal cortex. When participants feel connected, they open up to sharing and trust.
Addicted to Being Right: Facilitator Tips
Great facilitators seek to amplify the production of oxytocin while striving to avoid spikes of cortisol and adrenaline. Therefore the following tips will help you help others who are addicted to being right:
- Anticipate and provide appropriate ground rules: remind everyone that they have a fiduciary responsibility to speak up to support or defend claims
- Avoid judging: focus on issues, not personalities
- Carefully manage scope creep: strongly avoid the tendency for the group to fall into a harmful conversational pattern
- Counteract the domineering: ensure that everyone contributes and consider going around in a circle (ie, ‘round-robin’) or demanding Post-It® notes from everyone with their point of view (again make sure you capture the perspectives visually and transfer small Post-It notes to large format display so that everyone can see all the claims)
- Focus on open-ended questions: careful to avoid close-ended questions and force a multitude of open-ended responses
- Listen with empathy: strive to explore and understand everyone’s perspective as there can be more than one right answer
- Provide visual feedback: highlight the evidence-based claims (ie, objective support)
“Connecting and bonding with others trumps conflict. I’ve found that even the best fighters — the proverbial smartest guys in the room — can break their addiction to being right by getting hooked on oxytocin-inducing behavior instead.”
 See “Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results” by Judith E. Glaser
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