Printed 2017/08/21 08:17PM

Admitting When You're Wrong


As a father of two head-strong boys (inherited trait), I struggle with getting them to admit they are wrong when they know they are. Recently I caught my oldest dead-to-rights on something and he stood there and refused to back down. Of course, I was upset, but this was a teachable moment. So I spoke to him very evenly and calmly and said something to the effect of, "We all make mistakes and we're all wrong from time to time. You being wrong about something isn't going to change the fact that I love you and I'm proud of you. But when you are wrong and you know you are wrong and you don't admit it, you're being deceitful. I can't tolerate lying. You know that. And here's why I know you're wrong and why I know you know you're wrong..." and I proceeded to logically show him the pieces that blew apart his position. I want him to learn, while he is still under my roof, that admitting you're wrong is the right thing to do when you realize that you are. I didn't learn that until my first year of college.

At The Citadel, it is a family style arrangement for meals. Two freshmen are usually put on each half of a long table and their job is to serve the upperclassmen at said half of the table, and if they are lucky, try to get a bite to eat. One of those tasks is refilling the glasses when they get low. Certain upperclassmen do it certain ways. Some just want you to keep an eye on their glasses and when the liquid goes below halfway, you had better be filling up that glass. Others move their glasses to a certain point on the table and that's your cue. It was the latter that got me into trouble. At one particular dinner meal, Mr. Leroy Marshall and I got into it. Now Leroy back then was a sophomore and a giant of a man. I had a great deal of respect for Mr. Marshall. I was 5'7" and less than 130 lbs. Leroy probably could have snapped me in two. It's a wonder that he didn't. Here's why.

Right before dinner I had a phone conversation from someone in my family over grades. It was midterms and I would have a 3.5 or so GPA for my classes at that point. This particular person was furious that it wasn't a 4.0. So when I came to dinner, I had a huge chip on my shoulder. I was ready to fight. Even with someone like Leroy. And when his glass separated from his plate, I grabbed it and started to fill it up. He stopped me and asked where the glass was. I pointed to the spot where he had indicated we should pick up his glass from. He stated it wasn't there, but had just come dislodged from his plate. I then proceeded to argue with him. As a freshman you're never supposed to argue with an upperclassman. But I didn't care. I was so angry it didn't matter who he was or who was right. And the conversation got heated very, very quickly.

That's when one of the upperclassmen pulled me off the table and took me aside. He knew where the glass was and he knew I was wrong. He also knew that me fighting back like that wasn't normal behavior for me. And he knew that if I kept going, I was going to pay a heavy price for my refusal to back down. When he pulled me aside, his advice was, "Look, Leroy can kill you and we couldn't stop him." Very true. "But that's not the point." What? "You know you're wrong. And we know you know you're wrong. When you refuse to admit you're wrong, people lose respect for you."

That's not something I had considered. At that point I had stopped seeing red. I could have sworn the glass was where Leroy put it when he wanted a refill. But here was a second guy telling me I was wrong. Because of the respect I had for Leroy, the last thing I wanted was him to lose respect for me. I learned a valuable lesson that day: be willing to admit you are wrong. When you stick to your guns and refuse to do so, people begin to distrust you. They lose respect for you. As a professional, such as being a SQL Server DBA, once they lose that respect and trust, your ability to influence decisions for the better is gone. For my boys, whatever career field they choose to go, the same thing applies.

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