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How to get someone to admit they are wrong?


How to get someone to admit they are wrong? Ever been in one of those situations where someone clearly made a mistake or offered false information they thought was correct, and they simply won’t admit they are wrong? Honestly, sometimes I feel we are all living in a large sandbox, being about 4 years old, pretending to be adults.

No one likes to admit they are wrong

Look, no one likes to admit they are wrong. It inevitably comes with some kind of negative emotion. It does for me as well, though I am a person who is quick to apologize and can easily laugh my own wrongness off. Probably because it so rarely happens. Just kidding. When I am on the receiving end of someone else being wrong who refuses to admit it, my internal and external response really depends on the context. There is a huge difference between someone being wrong about an ingredient in a meal vs. a situation where the consequence of not admitting to being wrong causes someone else physical or emotional harm. Think of people whose reputation ends up being damaged or they end up in jail for something they did not do,

“You may want to explore that”

Frankly, the more I age, the less I care to have the “who is wrong” discussion about small things. My students laugh at the end of a training when they know the standard sentences that I use when I do not want to argue with a student’s questionable opinions. Honestly, they are a time-saver, and it keeps things light-hearted.

  1. You may want to explore that.
  2. You may want to reflect on this.
  3. According to whom is that true?
  4. I do not know anything about that (any controversial topic like vaccinations or politics.).

To be honest, in a Dutch environment, I am far more direct. In a Dutch context, directness is not just socially acceptable, it is appreciated, and authentic even. In an international context, this isn’t appropriate, socially acceptable, or even kind.

Why does someone refuse to admit they are wrong?

We all know people with mega-fragile egos. Hilariously so, even when an entire room of people or a bonafide expert disagrees, they still won’t concede. It can be a maddening situation. The glove clearly does fit! So we can not acquit.

Guy Winch, a psychologist, speaker, and author, says that most people who never admit they’re wrong have really fragile egos. They get all defensive and stick to their guns because they’re afraid of the consequences of being wrong. This is what experts call “psychological rigidity”. They think if they stick to their guns, they can protect themselves from being seen as weak or facing some kind of punishment. Winch also points out that some people will go to extreme lengths to avoid admitting they’re wrong, even changing the facts and convincing themselves of new realities in their own minds to avoid taking responsibility.
This has “childhood installation” all over it. In that regard, I wasn’t too far off my comment of sometimes feeling that I am in a sandbox with 4-year-olds.

Self-esteem can also play a huge factor. And 85% percent of us struggle with self-esteem issues according to research out there. Our self-esteem issues are never through any fault of our own; however, it is up to us to fix them.

How to get someone to admit they are wrong?

I am not a huge fan of hashing out every single wrong, limiting belief, white lie, or embellishment. There wouldn’t be enough time in my day. And further, I don’t like to live with a “dark cloud” filter, where my moral compass constantly needs to correct the world. If anything, it is fun to psycho-analyze or play with it a little.

Build rapport

Create a space of trust and safety, where we are all alike – sometimes we are wrong, and sometimes we are right. We can be honest, and ourselves in this space.

The 2nd perceptual position

Step into their shoes, and communicate with the person from this space. Compliment them, or tell them that you are also sometimes wrong. (This must be done from a place of sincerity or it will, no doubt, come off as patronizing.) Be kind, and listen.

There is a positive intent that motivates every behavior

Think about what their positive intent is behind holding on to this misinformation. For example, protection. If you meet this positive intent by making them feel you aren’t threatening – they are much more likely to admit they are wrong.

Chunking up to the higher value

Create a win-win situation. You may not be able to agree in detail on whatever topic this person doesn’t want to admit they are wrong about. What you both want is a positive interaction, therefore it is in your best interest to meet the person in this space instead. Do this without violating your own values or moral compass, of course.

Create positive emotional states, and avoid trapping or ridiculing someone

Do not ask about specific details in order to trap someone. Avoid ridicule, and attacking someone’s already fragile ego or self-esteem. Create positive states instead.

People are not their behaviors – the positive worth of an individual must be held constant

Disconnect the personal value or intrinsic worth someone has from their misinformed statements. Just because someone is wrong, or has a hard time admitting they are wrong, doesn’t mean they are a bad or dumb person.

Remove all barriers

Ask curious, more general questions to lead breadcrumbs to the correct answers. Remove all barriers. Instead of creating an argument, invite someone to do research together to figure it out.

Extraverts: like to think out loud, so ask them questions that allow them to get to the right answer. You can ask the right questions.

Introverts: like to reflect, You can give them prompts (and time) to reflect to come up with the right answer.

Avoid adversarial positions

Even though someone else is wrong, it doesn’t mean that you need to vocalize being right and turn it into a competition where someone wins and someone loses. Not everything needs to be a competition. It doesn’t have to be a dog eat dog situation. Compassion, kindness, and mutual understanding are a much better space to be.

How can you learn to do all of the above? These are all concepts and techniques taught in an NLP training.



Mistakes Were Made (but Not By Me) Third Edition: Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson.

When you buy through this link I earn a small affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you.  I would recommend this book to my own friends and family.


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