Could I be wrong?

The world globe on the left and various social on the right

As a mediation and negotiation specialist I work in conflict resolution where initially each party typically has a position. They believe they are right, and the other party is wrong. Behind every position are interests. Interests are the seeds to a solution between the parties. Knowing this, I want to ask you, given your position on something if you might be the person who could be at least partially wrong? Is it possible you are the yahoo in the room rather than the other person being the yahoo? Is it possible you could be wrong given the information that you have and know to be facts? You don’t know what you don’t know.

We are a very divided society today on several levels. At an intellectual level the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkely offers insights on Expanding Awareness of the Science of Intellectual Humility.  Starting with this article and digging deeper I wanted to share with you as a mediator some insights that you may find helpful when you are in conflict with someone else.


Starting with a family story


I know when I was young my mother pointed out to me that if I thought everyone else was crazy, I should look in the mirror. I should see if, just maybe I was wrong. At the time I can remember going into the bathroom as a preschooler and looking in the mirror. I did not see anything wrong. Of course, this was not her intention. She was talking figuratively not literally. Sharing this with you, I am suggesting to you my mother’s wisdom and suggesting you figuratively look in the mirror too.


Diving  deeper


Mahatma Gandhi offered “It is unwise to be too sure on one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and wisest might err.” 

Some believe that we are in a crisis regarding “intellectual humility.”

Intellectual humility is simply the degree to which people recognize that their beliefs may be wrong. So many Americans are deeply convinced that they are right and that others are clearly wrong. This is reinforced daily with social media and news sources that reinforce beliefs. As a conflict resolution specialist, I find it valuable to look beyond beliefs and instead focus on values. What are values that the parties have in common that can be built upon regarding areas of agreement?


Arrogance and pride


Society today encourages pride, arrogance, and superiority. Look at sports and politics.

Fifty years ago, when professional football players made a touchdown, the team gave fellow team members congratulations. They did not gloat about the accomplishment, spike the ball, run into the end zone as a team performing a ritual to demonstrate they were superior and in your face. Having pride in accomplishment and being humble reflecting on team was the common mantra. Today bouncing chests off on one another, shouting back at the crowd how good the athlete is and providing insults at the opposite side’s team on how good the athlete is has become accepted as normal. With politicians, personal swipes rather than discourse on genuine issues where there are legitimate differences regarding policy is the norm. Just watch political debates. Look at the attacks on one another rather than the substance of character.


Common values


My experience as a mediator and negotiator tells me everyone wants to be respected and to be listened to. Common values that are typically appreciated include respect, integrity, honesty, responsibility, loyalty, compassion, fairness, kindness, and sincerity. Of course, there are others.

Dr. Matt Bostron has pointed out that in our society we need to “hire for character and train for competence.” What does that mean? He points out for example that those who show others respect, are responsible, honorable, and tell the truth have the fundamental elements of good character. Dr. Michelle Borba, the author of Building Moral Intelligence, offers that empathy, conscience, self-control, respect, kindness, tolerance, and fairness are essential towards building moral intelligence in children.  I would offer it for adults too.

 Character Counts at the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University promotes trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.


Common threads through this initial commentary on character are these four sources:

 respect (4), responsibility (3), fairness (2), kindness (2)


Other virtues identified by at least one of these three sources are caring, citizenship, compassion, conscience, empath, integrity,  honesty, honorable, loyalty, self-control, sincerity, trustworthiness, and telling the truth.

As a mediator that volunteers in housing court, conciliation court, in neighborhood disputes, public housing, and between gangs, this commentary resonates with me. What I have found from corporate board rooms with differences up to $1 billion to disputes between gangs where violence is the norm everyone wants respect and to be listened to.


Practical application

Applying this with the concept of intellectual humility to me implies taking the time to really listen and let the other party present their perspective. Dr. Danial Shapiro presents a nice short video on  How to Argue offering that

letting the other person go on for at least 10 minutes while listening actively  is critical.

He suggests listening actively and focusing on understanding, appreciating the other person, and finding ways to have an emotional connection are the way to go. These are the three key elements associated with finding common ground.


Listening actively


This is hard. Your natural tendance is to be defense, prepare for an attack, judge the other party, and tell the other party why they are wrong when you disagree. When the focus is not on how to refute what the other party has said, but instead on probing deeper with questions this is an example of intellectual humility. This demonstrates that you are not attacking, but that you are trying to understand by applying the virtues identified above.

You do this by paraphrasing, summarizing, asking open ended questions and empathizing with the other party.

It is through listening actively that one can truly begin to understand. Listening requires intellectual humility. That is your willingness to take the time to listen to the other party and to be humble enough to not think you have all the answers. Listening to gain insight into the underlying facts, issues related to the facts, emotion tied to the issues, and understanding underlying interests are the keys to finding a solution.

If you’re looking for some assistance related to collaboration or conflict resolution, or enhancing your Servant Manager skills, check out these links.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]