The Need To Be Right

December 7, 2017By Bill RatliffUncategorized

Regardless of the hat I’m wearing at the time — mediator, litigator, friend, brother, husband, father, and now grandfather — I struggle with the desire to be right. Always right.

I recently read a post on the blog by Loraine Segal entitled The Seductiveness of Being Right. St. Augustine, a pillar of the early church, regularly prayed “Oh Lord, deliver me from the lust of always vindicating myself.” Can you identify with this? The desire to be right truly is seductive, and it’s not helpful.

That desire is wired into most lawyers’ personalities at birth. Unfortunately, law school only strengthens the wiring — while professional experience gives us additional tools to convince others that we are right.

Do you want to be happy, or right?

It’s a question I was once asked by a wise marriage counselor. I’ve reflected on that thought for years — and at the ripe age of 61, I’m a lot more inclined to be happy than I used to be. You guessed it, I’m a slow learner.

In my nearly 20 years of mediation, I can count on one hand the number of cases where both sides weren’t convinced they were right and the other side was wrong. As a mediator, I have to resist the urge to think that I’m right — because, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I think. Oh sure, part of my job is to tell the parties what I think — but in the end, what’s important is what they think is right.

Why am I writing about this?

This issue is important in mediation because rarely is one side completely right and the other completely wrong. Perspective is always relevant, and important, to consider as parties negotiate with money over who’s more right. This is one of the ways a neutral, third-party mediator can be helpful in the process.

One of the topics I always cover in talking to parties during a mediation is their respective contributions to the conflict at hand. No matter what kind of case I’m dealing with — from automobile accidents to contract disputes — each party’s contribution to the conflict is always helpful to assess and discuss during mediation. I’ve also found it helpful to label each party’s role in the dispute as “contribution,” rather than “blame.”

In most cases that go to trial, arbitrators, judges and/or juries ultimately determine who’s right — and as any experienced litigator will tell you, they can all get it wrong. So one of my main messages to mediating parties is always this: “Why let a third-party determine (often at significant cost to you) who’s right and who’s wrong?” The beauty and benefit of meditation is that the parties remain in control — not a third-party.

So next time you mediate a case, consider asking your client (or, alternately, your attorney): “Which is more important: Being happy or being right?” If you refuse to settle, you may be neither!

One Comment

  • Bill,

    I get it! As a prior DR Judge and now mediator / Private Judge, I have been dealing with who is right and who is wrong for years. As you know , I had to make that call many times. It not only takes more time to resolve, it cost more money to try a case and what about the peace of mind of the parties and their families.

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