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Recently a co-worker has helped me identify an issue in myself: I have difficulty admitting I'm wrong.

Does anyone have experience with a similar issue and how did you solve it?

I'd love any ideas, ways to understand and break down the problem, reading material, youtube videos, etc.

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    Just start doing it. It will get easier with practice. If someone corrects you (and they're right), grit your teeth and thank them. After a while you won't have to grit your teeth. And after a long while, you might even feel grateful that people are helping you grow by pointing out your mistakes, even if they are sometimes jerks when they do it ;)
    – ColleenV
    May 13 at 19:20
  • This isn't fundamentally different from making the same change in your personal life. May 13 at 19:47
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    Remember that the other people involved know you are wrong. You denying that reality doesn’t mean they don’t know you are wrong. They still know you are wrong and also know you are insufficiently mature to admit it. Removing one of those negative assessments is in your immediate control. If you don’t take the opportunity then more fool you.
    – jwpfox
    May 14 at 2:31
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    You would need to answer the question "Why is it such a problem to admit I was wrong?" for me to be able to help you further. My reason was I was afraid to look less "experienced" if I make mistakes. I left that issue easily behind me a long time ago :)
    – Chapz
    May 14 at 12:55
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    @personjerry Also, it's a very "junior" thing to do, as they usually have those fears and think its expected to know everything and be able to fix everything. Seniors know the reality of the situation and know their skills when they "know" and when they need to ask for help to solve a problem in the fastest and most efficient way.
    – Chapz
    May 15 at 21:57
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For me it starts with behaviors. If you start behaving a certain way, people will begin to perceive you that way, then you'll start thinking that way. Start by collecting the list of traits you exhibit (from other peoples' perspective) that indicate you always have to be right. For me, that comes down to:

  1. Always using "but" when replying to someone. "But" is a negating word. A behavior to switch to would be to use "Yes, and". This is a tactical change, and ultimately it amounts to a nonsensical "cleansing" of language. It goes a long way towards combatting any sense that you're stomping on someone's thoughts and opinions.
  2. Always having to "expand" the argument. Sometimes an extra detail is not necessary even if you feel it makes the conversation more impactful. There are times when you should just let an answer/idea/discussion stand on its own from someone else's perspective.
  3. Actually saying the words "You're wrong." Unless they say something like "2+2 obviously equals 5" or "the sun rose on the west side of my house this morning", leave these words in a closet somewhere.
  4. Using assertions. When you state something as if it's a fact when it's an opinion, people will automatically jump to "this guy thinks he knows everything". Be careful in the tone you use. The more "authoritative" your tone sounds, the less approachable you'll be on various topics.
  5. Always having an opinion. When you always have an opinion, it's another sign of someone who has to be right. Sometimes it's just best to keep your mouth shut.
  6. Continuing an argument long after everyone else has lost interest. Make your argument, if people listen, then great. If they don't, let it go.
  7. Saying "let's agree to disagree". This is a condescending way of "your opinion sucks, and I don't care". That's probably the truth, and it's also not what you want to say to anyone generally. Find other ways of backing out of unnecessary arguments like, "I'm having trouble getting to your viewpoint. I'll have to give it some more thought. Let's come back to that later." It still puts off the conversation, gives you time to keep your opinion and gives the other person the sense that you're at least listening.
  8. Waiting for your turn to respond. In a discussion, don't just sit and wait to talk. Listen to the other person. Absorb what they're saying. Pause before responding. That small pause does wonders for letting the other person feel heard.

Most of the above are tactical suggestions for small behavior tweaks that open up the space for you to present yourself differently. Ultimately, as you get better at them, people will be more open with you, and your first responses will become more inclusive. Your discussions will lead to more connection in the moment. Finally, your inclusion of other people into those behaviors will lead you to accepting more ideas rapidly rather than having to be "convinced".

Start with the small easy changes. Go for "Yes, and". Try saying "You've given me something to think about" more often. Even if they're not entirely "genuine", just getting into the practice will make it a lot easier to find that inclusion that people are looking for.

Note: this all comes from experience. I'm an enormous "know-it-all". I'm answering on a Q&A site, how much more demonstration is needed? As a leader in an organization, there is no place for these behaviors or attitudes. People have to believe that I'm making the right choices, they don't want to have "I'm right" shoved down their throats. It's a constant battle, and it does get easier with practice. I still have a long way to go.

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  • Fantastic suggestions, although this seems to primarily address the problem of pointing out when others are wrong. That is surely a close companion of denying oneself being wrong, but perhaps there is a distinction.
    – Pete W
    May 13 at 21:23
  • @PeteW: A fair point. I addressed this answer from my own perspective of having received this exact feedback, so it's completely understandable that it would be a little lopsided. May 13 at 21:53
  • I'm accepting this answer as it provides actionable changes and explains how these changes contribute to my journey of becoming a more humble and flexible person. May 15 at 7:22
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Maybe, you can look at the issue from a different angle when someone points out your mistakes:

  1. Everyone makes mistakes on the jobs. Even the best workers make mistakes.
  2. Everyone should learn from their own mistakes and improve later on.
  3. Usually, managers highly values workers who can learn from their own mistakes and improve fast.
  4. When your coworkers point out your mistakes, they don't intentionally want to put you down or make you look bad. Instead, they are trying to help you improve your skills and do a better job later on.
  5. Generally, in a team, coworkers always try to help each other to improve because it will be beneficial to the whole team.
  6. When someone points out the mistakes, try to remember the times in the past in which they were kind, nice, and friendly to you. This way, you don't see the hostility from that person, and will see that this person is only being helpful to you.
  7. Watch your team daily, and you will see that other workers also make mistake, and they professionally admit their mistakes, and quickly fix the mistakes and move on. It does not mean that they are forever incompetent because they make some mistakes on the job. All is good in the end.
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Here's a template.

"I have to say something. I thought that A was true, but in fact, B was true. Thank you, C for explaining this to me. I've made [changes] in light of B. Please, do tell me if I missed anything else, I'm always open to learning."

Or, if it's a minor issue.

"Oops, my mistake."

The keys are you take ownership of your mistakes, are thankful to whoever revealed you to them, and intend to change. People tend to like you more and respect you more if you take responsibility for your actions and less if you deny all fault.

Don't blame anyone, don't do a misery party, don't make a massive thing of it, but apologies are pretty good for being a friendly coworker.

Another important think is active listening. When someone explains a fault you made, listen to them, don't argue, and try to understand their perspective. That can be useful, say, if your manager has a substantial critique they want you to understand. If you argue, you generally just look petty. Listening can work better.

There are some exceptions. Don't admit you are wrong if it's a legal issue without a lawyer's advice. Don't admit you are wrong in permanent records like emails if you suspect it will be used against you in promotions. Don't accept blame for other's actions. Don't admit it to anyone with a habit of using weaknesses against others.

Here are some helpful articles on the issue.

https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15110-how-to-apologize-at-work.html

https://www.bizcatalyst360.com/how-to-admit-mistakes-at-work-graciously/

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/15/heres-exactly-what-to-doand-sayafter-youve-made-a-mistake-at-work.html

And here's a video explaining it in more depth.

https://www.ted.com/talks/jahan_kalantar_a_perfect_apology_in_three_steps

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Look for the kernel of truth in what they're saying. Unless the criticism is completely made up out of thin air, there is usually a kernel of truth that can be found somewhere in there.

With that said, and this is important too, do not necessarily do what they want you to do just because you're willing to admit a mistake.

To make mistakes is human. Everyone does them. But that doesn't mean you should give your power away every time either. Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn't.

This advice is mostly derived from a book written by Manuel J. Smith. I don't like to mention the title of the book itself, since I don't think it gives you an accurate description of the content of the book, but that book has changed my life. I highly recommend it.

Another thing that's helpful is to keep a daily diary/journal. A diary can really help you look back on a day and analyze what happened. It will help you pick up on patterns about yourself and others. This is how I raised my emotional intelligence when I was younger. It's quite effective, but you have to put in the daily work.

And finally, this advice is not really for you, it's for your co-worker. Some people can get very defensive quite quickly. Sometimes, it's best to introduce an idea and then not talk about the idea for a week or two. This allows for the idea to marinate in the other person's head for a while. And this approach can work more effectively than trying to change someone's mind all in one time.

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A lot of the previous answers have concentrated on things to do in the workplace, but if this is a phenomenon you also find in the rest of your life, then you may have to take measures to allow yourself to get used to being wrong. I'm assuming you have a genuine problem that you recognise, and you really don't like taking criticism or changing your mind, maybe because you're a perfectionist or set in your ways or derive your sense of self from being very knowledgeable. We all need to learn how to tell when we're right and when we're wrong, and how to react appropriately (some people are incapable of knowing they're right and suffer chronic low confidence and indecisiveness).

This could involve situations where you're going to be wrong, but it doesn't really matter that you're wrong. For instance learning a new skill in a social environment, something you won't take to immediately: a foreign language, a craft, a sporting activity, an academic subject. Learn that it's all right to be wrong, and learn to take criticism and grow from it.

It's also something that you should learn from group activities and discussions. Being in a group means listening to different opinions and revising your beliefs. This might include book clubs or film groups or other discussion groups, or even in volunteer groups or political organisations where you discuss things and come to decisions. You could do this online, but I think it's better if you're dealing with people in person in your job that you should learn how to handle these things in person. Learn how to accept being wrong, and how to tell when other people are talking rubbish.

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