MUST We Always Be Correct? The Conversation Killer

This morning, Anita and I were talking about how some of our circle participate in conversations. There are some issues where a couple of the folks really like to be correct and make sure everyone knows their version of the facts. Other people are sensitive about being “corrected” in public. During these conversations, I am mostly conspicuously quiet.

Let me tell you this about that! My dad always said that.

Why am I quiet? When one of these fact-slinging fests starts up, I quickly decide for myself whether MY version of what is correct is important enough for me to interject it and possibly get into an argument or make someone feel stupid. Usually, it simply isn’t. Whether Family Member A is citing outdated statistics to prove a point or Family Member B doesn’t remember a historical fact accurately is really their problem.

What happens is that the conversation is effectively killed when someone declares, “This is the only answer. The end.” (Meanwhile, I’m over there googling.)

If I think it’s a “teachable moment” where the people in the conversation are actually interested in learning some things I happen to know, I might chime in. If I can tell the conversants are mostly wanting to just Be Right, I don’t bother. It might be the case that they need to know something, but I’ll bring it up later, or send them a link.

This is always in the back of my mind.

As for me, I don’t mind being “corrected” in a conversation. I am pretty sure I don’t know everything, and I like learning, a lot. Even if someone sounds condescending, I’ll try to bring things around to a discussion of equals.

As I talked to Anita, it occurred to me that there are people whose “rightness” is their way to feel that they have some power over others. I still remember the boyfriend who got truly upset when I showed him he was wrong about something that I felt important enough to argue about. He informed me that, as head of the household, he was not used to having his word questioned. I informed him that he was in a partnership, not a master-servant relationship, and that the partnership was not going to last any longer (not in those exact words…that’s the gist of the conversation minus crying, which I used to do a lot of).

The partnership was over. But, he learned something that day. We remain friends.

I know everything. Just listen to me.

Over the years, I’ve grown less and less inclined to insert my correctness into conversations. I let people tell me that Appalachians are still speaking Elizabethan English. It doesn’t harm them to think that. My knowledge of how language changes would bore them to death anyway. And if some folks in my circle tell me their pet theory about this or that, I just listen and thank them for their input. Most of the time, explaining what I think doesn’t change a thing. This gives me more time to look at the dogs, watch the leaves change color, etc.

There are just too many versions of right and wrong, and besides, I hear we are in a post-factual society now, anyway. (Just kidding. Facts matter.)

To Think About

So, if you find yourself feeling driven to correct people’s misconceptions or factual errors, look into your heart to see if you genuinely want them to learn something they NEED to know, or if you are mostly talking to prove you know better than them. Is that necessary? Is it worth the consequences? It’s for you to decide.

So, does this make sense or am I being a conversation squisher?

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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