What Does it Take to Admit You’re Wrong?

Do you ever honestly entertain the possibility that you are totally wrong about something? Doesn’t matter if the issue is political, social, scientific, spiritual or whatever. Yeah, you may pose the question to yourself, but then you think of your first strong argument and immediately dismiss the possibility.

Or, your core belief may be right, but you might be totally clueless about the context within which your issue resides. Or your proposed solutions could be total nonsense.

The point of this article is not to change your opinion. It’s to create some wiggle room and flexibility in your attitude. Nothing’s so sacred that it cannot be put in question. Being open, flexible and curious makes you smarter, more perceptive and benefits you in the long run.

How to admit you’re wrong

Let’s get this out of the way. Sometimes you realize, mid argument, that you’ve made a mistake, but refuse to admit it. You keep defending your point of view, change the subject or dismiss the whole argument, just so you don’t have to say “Yeah, you’re right… Sorry.” You’ve done that before, haven’t you? 😛

Admitting you’re wrong doesn’t make you weak. You actually gain respect because you show you’re willing to learn from your mistakes. It builds trust.

First, you have to admit it to yourself. Then, be simple and clear. Say “I was wrong. I’m sorry for…” The second sentence adds specifics and clarifies the issue to both sides. Next, explain how you’ll do things differently. This show’s that you are taking your mistake seriously and really want to improve.

Don’t be an asshole

I see a general rise in the level of assholes in the last few years, regardless of the issue being discussed. Asshole behavior won’t change an opinion or help solve any issue. Scott Adams, author of Dilbert, said it better in his book than I could. It exceeds the scope of this article a bit, but I considered it important enough to include the whole thing.

“I would define an asshole as anyone who chooses to make the lives of others less pleasant for reasons that don’t appear productive or necessary.

Asshole behaviors:

  1. Changing the subject to him/herself
  2. Dominating conversation
  3. Bragging
  4. Cheating, lying
  5. Disagreeing with any suggestion, no matter how trivial
  6. Using honesty as a justification for cruelty
  7. Withholding simple favors out of some warped sense of social justice
  8. Abandoning the rules of civil behavior, such as saying hello or making eye contact

I assume asshole behavior exists because it feels good when you do it. In that sense it’s like an addiction.”

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is a tendency to notice or search out information that confirms what you already believe, or would like to believe, and to avoid or dismiss information that’s contrary to your beliefs or preferences.20140916-research


We are all subject to confirmation bias. Any research that supports our views is good, quality research and strengthens our beliefs. Experiments that confirm the opposite are just faulty science or a conspiracy. That also strengthens our preexisting belifes. People who agree with us are smart and reasonable, and those who disagree are deluded sheep. Right?

Research shows that being aware or warned about confirmation bias doesn’t help. You’re still susceptible to the exact same biases. Wanting to be fair or objective isn’t enough. What does help is the so-called “consider-the-opposite” strategy.

For any argument or study you are exposed to, imagine the results show the exact opposite, and then analyze its methodologies. Would you rate the argument/study the same way in both situations?

Read more about this here.

360 degree thinking

Practice empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of your opposition. Don’t trivialize their opinions or call them names. That just makes you an asshole. People mostly aren’t evil in the true sense of the word. They believe they’re doing the right thing. That belief may be caused by brainwashing, propaganda, mental illness or something else, but it doesn’t make a person evil. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.”

Really try to see every issue from others’ point of view. And not only your opposition, but your colleagues, friends, bystanders, the media, critics, haters etc. What questions would they ask? What holes would they poke in your arguments? Use the insights you gain to reevaluate or clarify your opinions. Predict how they will react, and accept the consequences. You don’t have to please them all, but it’s useful to know what reactions to expect and be prepared for them.

 But seriously, what would it take?

Whenever you reach a standoff in any conflict, ask yourself the question from the title. “What would it take for me to admit that I’m wrong?” What evidence needs to be presented to convince me otherwise? Tell the other person your answer, and ask him/her the same question. The conversation can take a very interesting turn at that point.

Making a 180° turn isn’t necessary. Things aren’t usually black and white. Maybe there’s a third option. Or a thousand possibilities. Be aware of those possibilities. You’ll be more relaxed, curious, approachable and a better thinker.

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