Letting Go of the Need To Be Right

“Communication is only as good as how it lands.”

This is one of the most clear and true things that I’ve learned in recent months. I’ve witnessed (and been part of) numerous arguments which included the words “that’s not what I said!” And I’ve come to understand how utterly irrelevant that sentence is.

In the end, does it matter what words were actually spoken? I’m really starting to think “not much.” What matters is what was heard or understood. What matters is how that communication impacted the other person.

If I’m saying something and the other person isn’t getting what I intended, any number of things can be in the way. I could be saying the wrong words. I could be saying one thing but thinking something else – and they could be picking up on that disconnection. I could be trying to tell them something they’re not ready to hear – and that lack of readiness can come from my raising a difficult topic, my timing something badly, or just that they’re pre-occupied with something else and so my communication is bouncing off without being absorbed at all.

By the way, when I say “communication” I mean so much more than words. I mean words+intention. Because really, we are creatures who can communicate without words. We do it all the time every day. We start doing it as infants and words get added, but they never replace that unspoken communication. Words are useful to help clarify and to make things more specific, but they are just one part of communication.

I’ve recently been paying a lot of attention to this. And working on getting away from the arguments (or even discussions) about what was said. Because if I’m making that argument, it feels I’m not doing much more that trying to prove that I’m right. And what I really care about is that I’m in relationship with someone and that they understood what I meant to say. Towards this end, I’ve learned that swapping out “what did you hear me say?” in place of “that’s not what I said!” has incredible power to change the direction of a conversation.

I’m starting to recognize the power of letting go of the need to be right. Because in the end, I don’t care about being right as much as actually communicating and being connected.


  1. Nina

    I really appreciate you sharing this with us Cianna.
    Certainly something I consider often in the myriad of venues communication takes place (between humans – verbal as well as non-verbal, as well as imagery/sensory).

    Something I’ve found contributes toward having my message received, is taking my audience into consideration. That is, I look to get to know more about who they are, where they come from and what’s important in their life. It’s not a exact science 😀 Though I find that approaching a situation with this in mind, helps me in choosing the wording, timing, approach style (which includes, choosing not to chat someone up).

  2. Joshua White

    I totally agree about communicating here. My quote was always, “the problem with communication is the mistaken belief that it has occurred.” As a matter of face, there is a class I took at Berkeley called the Philosophy of Language that deals with just this topic: how intention is really the meat of communication rather than your words or anything else.

  3. cianna

    Nina – I have also found that having my attention on who is listening definitely helps me find the right words, etc, to be heard. The tricky thing there is maintaining a balance between authentically saying what you need to say and using the language of the listener.

    Joshua – I love that quote! If there are any other gems from that class that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it!

    (and, speaking of communication: I think it’s a communication fail that I didn’t see these comments until today. My apologies for the delayed response!)

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