Business and Relationships: When Everyone is Right, Who’s Wrong?

Not long ago, a friend of mine – let’s call him Tom – asked me to look over an email exchange he’d had with one of his suppliers. You see, Tom owns a retail business, and he had recently produced a marketing campaign that his supplier felt was an attack on his products. Tom wanted me to analyze the interaction and tell him exactly where the supplier had gone wrong in his thinking.What’s interesting is that as soon as I started reading the correspondence, it was clear to me that each of them had a different point of view – and each of them was defending their own position without giving any weight to the other’s perspective.  And the really funny thing was, both viewpoints were perfectly valid.

So, who was right and who was wrong? And was there any hope for a conflict resolution here?

The answer is that both were right and both were wrong. Both were right about the point of view they were defending, but both were mistaken in thinking that theirs was the only legitimate point of view.

Such interactions are as common in our personal lives as they are in business. And while we may be more inclined to give our spouse or friend the benefit of the doubt, the results of such one-sided interactions can be even more disastrous. Because while Tom stood to lose a valued business partner in this case, chronic conflict in our personal relationships can easily precipitate the loss of far more.

Each of us perceives the world differently, not only because of our differing perceptual styles, but also because of differences in our circumstances, goals, aspirations, ages, and even lifestyles. These individual experiences literally create different realities, each of which represents only part of the whole picture.

We all tend to defend our perception as the Truth, with a capital T – to assume that the way we see it is “right” and the way others see it is “wrong.” Tom was defending his view of the situation, which is perfectly natural. But his inability to see things from the supplier’s perspective posed a liability to his business, causing miscommunication, and lowering the possibility of a conflict resolution.

It can be important to explain your perspective to someone else as a way to reach agreement. But trying to explain your point of view so that they will see things “correctly” rarely, if ever, leads to a positive outcome. Accepting that different views represent different aspects of the truth and all contribute to a complete understanding is the way out of such “unsolvable” conflicts.

Think back to the last agreement you had.

  • Who was it with, and do you often have disagreements with this person?
  • As you think back, what was the major point of disagreement?
  • Now that you are out of the heat of the moment, where can you find validity in the other’s point of view?
  • What evidence can you see of how they might not have been able to understand your point of view?

Next time you find yourself in a situation of potential conflict with this person – or anyone in your life – try repeating what you’re hearing from the other party, with an effort toward understanding their perspective, rather than simply defending your own. You may find that this helps the other person to make sense of your perspective as well.

Stretching your understanding of different points of view is key to improving communication and reaching conflict resolution should one arise. And whether at home or at work, that’s a recipe for success.

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