How to Handle Employees who are Addicted to Being Right

We’ve all heard of addictions.  From the usual suspects, drugs and alcohol, to the odd, eating cigarette ashes and broken glass.  But did you know that there are some folks who are addicted to being right?  Our guest, Jennifer Thornton of 304 Coaching talks to us about this addiction and gives us strategies on how to handle employees who are suffering from it.

00:00 S1: Hello friends, and welcome to the show. This episode of HR Oxygen is brought to you by Boss Builders University. If you’re looking to train up your supervisors and managers, please check out our newest offering the art of being a great boss. In this 13-month program, I’ll be taking your managers through our driving results curriculum, which includes topics on communication, performance management, motivation, delegation, problem solving, decision making, team development, and much, much more. The sessions are virtual running one hour each month, and I’ll do it using our popular sketch and seminar, graphic art and storytelling format, no boring PowerPoint, stale stories and outdated tools and techniques. The sessions are engaging and provide technical practical tools that can be used immediately after the session for more information, visit us online at the boss builders dot com. Did you know it was possible to be addicted to being right, you know, it’s interesting because right now in this pandemic, I’ve been reading a lot about people that are having issues with addictions, but these are the chemicals and substances… Not to being right. Our guest today is Jen Thornton of 304 Coaching and consulting, and Jen’s gonna talk to us today about what this addiction to being right looks like more importantly, how do we fix it? She’s a great speaker.

01:22 S1: This is a topic that I was really quite surprised was an issue, but I think it’s important that we address it. And we tackle it. So let’s quit talking about Jen, let’s get into the topic. Now, you know what to do. Let’s go ahead and buckle up, it’s time for us to take off, should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area, please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.

01:47 S2: Hello and welcome to another episode of the HR Oxygen Podcast, the show focused on the overworked overwhelmed and under-appreciated HR professional. And now here is the host of our show, the boss builder, Mack Munro.

02:06 S1: Jennifer, welcome to the show.

02:10 S2: Thank you for having me.

02:12 S1: Well, it’s been great getting to meet you. And that’s the beauty of network connections, because I was connected with you, I think, through a mutual friend, Sharon Armstrong, I think is, who might have introduced us, but the topic today is on addictions, and so it’s been very interesting to read it as we’ve been in the middle of covid that our addictions are on the rise, and so we’re reading that people are… They’re drinking more alcohol, people are using more drugs, I read an article saying that Porn Hub has gotten just huge amounts of people that are on it these days, and yet the addiction we’re talking about today is the addiction of being… Right, which I think is shocking. So Jennifer, we’re gonna talk about that today. And before we talk about what that looks like and how do we overcome it? Please tell us about yourself, share your background and what your work specifically centers around now, and then we’ll dive into this topic.

03:05 S2: Great, so thank you for having me. And my background is in HR. I spent a lot of years and a corporate HR environment. I took my rounds through all the different departments inside of the hour world, my industry, I spent most of the more was in retail. And the last several years in my career, I actually managed an international PR division, so I had to fly around the world. It looked really beautiful on Instagram and Facebook, super cool, but it was a tough gig and a lot of rates in a host room, but an exciting piece of my life, I just really value that time working internationally, and then in several years ago, I kind of woke up in a hotel and a foreign if there and… But I think we could do something else. I’m ready to go out on my own. And so today, I own 304 Coaching, and what we do is we help fast fearing companies create talent strategy so that their business strategies has the talent, we look at that talent and what talent is required to make sure that business strategy comes to life and so that’s what we do today here at 304.

04:13 S1: So tell me what 304 stands for. It’s

04:16 S2: My lucky number. Okay, people ask all the time what it is, and when I decided to go out on my own before I even left my corporate job, I got a call to come in and pitch to a company to the CEO, and someone called, and so I need you to come in and pitch to our CEO tomorrow morning, and I’m like, I don’t even have a name yet for my business, and she’s like, You better figure it out tonight, and so that’s what I did, I went with my lucky number and it’s been great luck and pen

04:45 S1: That’s awesome. So when you work with a company and you’re doing the talent strategy, tell me exactly what that I do as you give away your secret sauce here, but what does it look like? And I know that you mentioned that you do coaching as well, does that factor into what you do…

05:03 S2: Yeah, and all factors in, when you look at a talent strategy, it’s really start to finish in what we wanna do first is understand what the business needs are, and where is this business going in the next two to three, five, 10 years, what is our business projection then we wanna look at what would that mean for the talent to make sure that all of those goals came to life, and so we’d start with culture and really think about what kind of organization… How do we want to work and get this organization as an institutional organization, or is it highly innovative, what is that way of work, then we work really hard with the organizations to determine who they need to hire, we are part of a license organization for OAD- organization analysts and design, and we use that assessment, that instrument to help us determine right fits for right jobs, then we have leadership academies that we custom design for organizations, and then yes, we do executive individual and team coaching. Team executive coaching is a lot of fun, it’s one of my favorite things to do. So

06:16 S1: What would you say to the company that says, Well, we’d like to do that talent assessment and all that, but we wanna wait till after the pandemics over and there’s a vaccine and everything’s settled in Washington. What’s your response to that? Should we just wait till everything calms down, or is this something we think about now.

06:35 S2: We should be thinking about it now, because what we need to be thinking about is What does this… How can we project what we think our business will look like after the vaccine or after this pandemic, and what does that mean for our organization, and then how do we look at our talent today to ensure that they’re ready for that because it is gonna look different so how our teams work together. The projects they worked on expectations and they’re all gonna look different in the future, and we have to make sure that they are ready for it. In fact, I have a client that I started working with early, probably meant to early February, and then of course, the pandemic head and their entire business was crippled, but they stuck with this project, are really proud of them for sticking with this project. And so throughout this entire year, we’ve created a performance-based organization, and so now that they’re ramping back up, they’re coming out stronger than they ever went into it because their team is ready for what’s ahead of them.

07:35 S1: I love that. Well, before we went on, we talked about treating this like an off-season where in a sports team that’s when you do your serious conditioning, and it seems like now is the time for an organization, you know, Hey, let’s not wait around for everything to be perfect again, right now is an opportunity to really think about what we’re gonna be doing in the future. And so, I hope if you’re listening to this today, you’re not waiting around for things to get better, ’cause at least from what I can see it, I don’t see anything getting better for any time soon, maybe I’m just negative, but I don’t know if reality suggest… I think we should just keep moving forward and so… But I wanna also move a little bit into this idea of being right, and so before we go into these questions, Jen, tell us where you came up with this whole concept of the addiction to being right.

08:25 S2: So it is part of one of the programs that we teach here at 304 coaching, and it’s part of our conversation intelligence program, and conversation intelligence is actually the brain told of a woman at name due to the classroom, and she spent over 40 years setting the Moro science of the mind, how took in conversation in the workplace and what was the business results… So when we’ve taken information, if we move towards fear that we move towards collaboration, what happens with our relationships and our business results, and I was very fortunate that I went to study under in here for a year and a half, and she was just a force of such an intelligent woman, and I’m so glad that I get to carry on her legacy and her education to my clients, and part of understanding the mind is understanding our addictions and how our addictions are related to different hits and how that happens in the workplace.

09:30 S1: So you mentioned a dopamine hit, would that mean that when I am right or proven to be right, suddenly I get that little burst of excitement or that rush… Is that how that works?

09:41 S2: You’re absolutely right, just like if you have an addiction to sugar or alcohol or one of my favorite retail therapy, when you are right, you get a dopamine hits, and we know if you’re addicted to sugar, you need more and more sugar to get that singing baseline of happiness and feel good sang thing happens when you’re right, and so over time, you need to be more right and stronger in your beliefs, and really holding on to sometimes untrue information, because if we were to admit you were wrong, it would take away that drug and that hit of the dope. Well, it’s funny because when you just tell me I was right, I actually felt like this little hit of dopamine, so I think it actually works that

10:27 S1: I wanna be right some more so I can feel that awesome rush.

10:30 S2: I know if it being right, feels great, I mean, we all love it. If your boss comes into the room, I was like, Man, you totally landed that project, man, you know that your feedback was bought on… Let’s face it. It feels good. We like it.

10:42 S1: Yeah, well, okay, so with regular addictions, at least from what I understand about them, typically a person doesn’t realize they’re addicted to something, some of them was stage an intervention, is that the way it works to… With this addiction, does a person have to be told multiple times they’re full of shit before they finally think… Maybe I’m not as great as I thought. How does that typically happen?

11:05 S2: Yeah, I love that question. What typically happens when I find executives who have an addiction to being right, what happens is it eventually starts to harm their team and harm their business, and it’s kind of a crisis moment, the pain of not changing becomes bigger than the pain of actually coming to terms with her addiction to being right and changing, so that’s usually when I get the phone call to come help us. So what I would say is, if you know, if you are this person or you know that person who goes to work every day and ensures that they’re the smartest person in the room or get to thrill from putting people down or saying, Do we not know anything or, I knew that and you didn’t. The person who’s the dictator gets in their car at the end of the night and drives home and doesn’t say, Wow, I learned so much today from my team, I’m so glad that I have such a smart team. They drive home and think me and my team, they don’t know what they’re doing, if I’m not there telling them what to do, they do nothing, I’m the only one who knows everything, and if you’re driving home and you think about your thoughts, that will help you recognize if you have an addiction or not, but

12:19 S1: I think you’d almost have to do some introspection and ask yourself, Am I really is great as I think I am, or do you just sort of plow forward and just the percentage of you being right is greater than the percentage of being wrong. And so you just continue down the path, I mean, do you find that most people on their own could just self-select and say, Wow, I really have a right… Of rightness problem.

12:43 S2: You might think… It depends on where they are. I’ve met people that I’ve had this conversation with. And you can see the light bulbs go off. And they’re like, Oh my gosh, I think I’m going down that path. And they can self-correct. And I have worked with the executives who were so deeply entrenched and there need to be the smartest person in the room that they struggle, they didn’t want to come to terms with it, and I’ve worked with one in particular that never did come to terms with it, and his business has suffered immensely from it, and I’ve had some that I had to come to firms with it because either a supervisor said, This is what a deal breaker for their Board of Directors said, This is gonna be a deal breaker that everyone’s a little different and it probably depends on how far down that road you are in your addiction…

13:37 S1: Okay, yeah, I guess that would be the equivalent again, of interventions where somebody realized, Hey, I care about this person enough to call them out and hopefully guide them on that path. Now, I have to be perfectly honest with you, and I’ve never even heard of this whole concept of being addicted or being… Right. Is it really prevalent?

13:57 S2: Oh my gosh, I see versions of it all the time, and I think a lot of us have a little bit of it, I mean, again, we talked earlier, it feels good when we’re… Right. And in the workplace, if we have a project we’re working on and someone comes up to us and says, Hey, can I give you feedback or I don’t like where this is going. We’re protective, and that protective state of our work is part of that chemical reaction, and it’s fear, and so our brains like, Oh, oh, we’re gonna get judged, this is fearful. Let’s kind of hold back here, be careful, we’re gonna get judged, and so we’re not a judge, we start to force our opinions on others, and it just happens all of the time in the workplace.

14:46 S1: We do a lot of work with personality instruments, and one in particular we like to use the curse temperaments, and one of the temperaments, it’s temperament and T, they’re driven by competence, other words, they really are driven by being the smartest one in the room. Then that’s personality-driven. Is there a chemical kind of connection to this too, ’cause I know with some of addictions and things, there’s probably a chemical piece to it versus a personality, I mean, are you aware of any connection that way, whether this is just a personality gone wild or a person legitimately has a condition that’s driving them to this…

15:28 S2: Now, what the research shows is it really happens over time, so it’s not necessarily a born trait, so it doesn’t come from a hyena command or confidence, and I think we all know someone we worked with early in their career and they were open, they were curious, we’re collaborative, they wanted to ask questions and know what was going on, and they were just this amazing person to work with, and they were so good that they got a lot of accolades and they got promoted really quickly, and then… After several years of working with that person, you don’t even recognize them anymore, and they come into meetings and they’re demanding people that they want answered, and then you give them the answers and they’re like, No, that’s not the right answer, that’s not… Here’s what the right answer is. And you’re like, Why did you even ask? But it’s this progression, and I know of several people I’ve worked with in my career that I kinda watch that progression and didn’t really understand where it came from until I started studying the neuroscience and the mind and the chemical reaction, and I’m like, Oh, that’s what’s happened over time is over time, they have gotten really attached to being right and that feeling of being right, and they don’t want anyone to take that away from them.

16:47 S1: Do you see any correlation between… ’cause I’ve been hearing a lot about this to the… I guess, I don’t know. It’s a condition. But it’s narcissism. I mean, this almost sounds a little bit like, that’s where narcissism is a legitimate psychological… I don’t know if they call it a disease or condition, is this kind of like a gateway to that or would that condition feed into this… Because from what I understand about narcissism, it’s very much like that.

17:17 S2: So I think that they can… They can’t overlap, but they also can be different, and so narcissism is a clinical diagnosed mental health disease. And so that is something that we are born with. And if you have that and you also enjoy, you’ve been very successful and you get to be right a lot, then could that condition and that addiction kind of come together and kind of compound… I would think they could, but we look at helping conversations in the workplace about our addiction to being right, it really is something that builds up over time, and it’s something that will continue to grow just like… If your addiction is alcohol, a couple of beers is fine, and three years later, you may need a whole case of beer, but it is built up over time, and narcissism would be something you were born with.

18:17 S1: Okay, good. Alright, ’cause that would be kind of freaky if those two led… ’cause it makes me… I don’t even wanna be right anymore, if that’s the date that scares me. You know what, it’s a… I’m right, ’cause now I’m getting really nervous.

18:29 S2: Yeah, everything’s good in small doses

18:31 S1: Or… Good. So this progression, right? So somebody is building this addiction to being right, and it’s to the point now where the team is noticing, the board is noticing, and finally somebody has that tough conversation and they make the call to you… When you get folks, do they… Are they in denial or are they open to listening… How do those conversations usually go? ’cause now we gotta talk about how to dig out of this whole… Right, I

19:00 S2: Know. And digging, that is an easy… But it’s worth it. The stuff on the other side of the work is fantastic, so when I get the call and I go in to work with an executive that we think may have this addiction, oftentimes they are in denial and denial sounds a lot like… Well, of course, now had to tell everyone what to do because no one around here knows how to do it as well as I do, and I’m like, Okay, well, tell me about your background, and maybe their background is in marketing, but they’re in the finance department, telling the chief finance officer, how to run his or her business, and I’m like, So tell me about your finance background. Well, really it’s marketing. Okay, well then tell me where your expertise comes over here, and they start to kind of just kind of like, Well, but are you an expert in all fields, and so you really have to kind of do a lot of digging into the reality and kind of turning the mirror back on that person, so when they’re providing their reasons and their excuses, that we need to unpack those and we go back and we say, Is this the truth or is this a story you’re telling yourself? So that you can maintain your current people of yourself, and that’s where it starts, is really getting honest about the stories that we’re telling ourselves.

20:24 S1: Do you ever get people that say, You know what I’m done, and they just walk out and then that ends it…

20:29 S2: I haven’t had anyone do that to me, but there are those situations, I’ve definitely seen it in a corporate environment, you now see it myself with other executives, basically, that person with that addiction, when everyone’s done with that and no one’s willing to have that in the business anymore and they are… The pressures put on them. Oftentimes, they will leave because we know staying means changing and they may not want to change, so I worked… I did the exact same knowing you talk about something that a person flashes in your head, that person in my head right now. I know exactly what happens.

21:11 S1: Well, that’s really interesting, and just the more I think about this, the more I wonder… I don’t know if you know this, would you think there’s a percentage of people that might have this addiction, just based on what you’ve been to going…

21:25 S2: Oh my gosh, that’s a good question. I don’t know if I have any statistics that I could share actually, what I would say is that when I work with executives, I would say there’s probably 10% of people I’ve worked with that are in serious trouble, that it is causing more business to circle the drain, and it is serious, and there’s probably no teen, 30% that have a tendency boards at them when called out and we work on it, are able to change, but that really serious addiction, like I said, I’ve had a client that was unwilling to change and unfortunately, he had a huge business, massive multi-million dollar, very, very large business, and they didn’t make it, and he had over 4000 people working for them that no longer had their jobs because he wasn’t willing to hear the truth, and when people told him the truth, it was me, who was a monster, and he came down on them, and method was ever his fault, it was always the team’s, and I even tried to get them to understand when you hire this team for that being, could that have been a four decision, do you not have the right team with you…

22:38 S2: No, no. They can be the job, they just don’t want to…

22:42 S1: Okay, well, yeah, that’s kind of like… Yeah, I guess this is the willingness it… Anybody can change as long as they are committed to it internally, how…

22:50 S2: Yeah, you’re absolutely right.

22:52 S1: So let’s go back to the war on one session you’re doing with somebody who’s been referred to you and you’ve asked the questions, Okay, where did you get your finance background, and at the end of this, they kind of realize… Okay, yeah, I guess I am addicted. So at that point, what is the process to kinda dig them out of this whole… How does that work?

23:13 S2: Do you know what the first exercise is, we do is we get really excited about being wrong, we kind of reprogram ourselves, because what we do is we reward for being wrong, because what we’re doing is we’re rewarding people from learning and getting curious. And so again, we need to still be happy at work, we don’t wanna come to work, can be depressed, and now I just… I can’t open my mouth, I can’t say anything. So we don’t wanna take everything away from them, so what we do is we say, Alright, if they’re willing to work on this, where does this typically go up, does it typically show up around your pet projects, does it show up on your views on your peers, wherever it goes out, and then we put very specific actions into place where they go and get curious, and we even practice those conversations around asking questions… Learning how to be open to other people’s opinions. When they come to me and they’re like, in a session, while this person is and that person is that… Well, I said, and we talk about, Well, that’s their reality, and learning how to accept someone else’s reality, but the funnest part of it is watching people get excited about learning, because that’s what we need to do because that replaces kind of…

24:31 S2: That dopamine hit, right? And we practice with practice being wrong and rewarding for it.

24:38 S1: Well, I’m just trying to imagine what life would be like if every time I was wrong, I got a hit of dopamine, it would be like a drug addict to be on… Eats began for needles, you know? Exactly.

24:48 S2: Yeah, but it’s a lot of fun to go in, maybe him into your team and say, You guys are the closest to the customer, and I have some assumptions on why Product X isn’t doing right now, but I want to hear from you what’s going wrong, I want you guys to tell me, come up with at least 20 things that I should hear about this product and opening that space up, and the first time this we do this executive who’s a ditto being right, who’s been kind of a monster. The first time they ask people for their opinion to leading it’s crickets, ’cause I won… Everyone’s pushed that burner in a lot, and Yantai again, but we work on that language and we work on lettering and getting people to build trust one conversation at a time, but when they are able to get that information, and if they have all this information, they were not willing to listen to the day before, but today for whatever reason, is willing to listen to it and then they can take that information and do something with it to drive the business, it starts to provide reward. It feels good.

25:56 S1: So this is really for the individual who is gonna work their way back to this new reality of they’re not gonna be right all the time, they’ll be okay being wrong, and so… Is there an average timeline? It takes a person to finally have that aha moment about themselves where they say I am… Right, because I’m wrong a lot.

26:18 S2: Yeah, I think for everyone, their journey is unique. Typically, I work with clients anywhere. At least six months. I won’t enter into any contract if someone’s not willing to at least give me six months, and I meet with… Meet with people weekly. So it’s a few meet every single… We talk about the conversations and means, we’re going into, what do we need to get out of those meetings? Who do you need to be in those meetings? But on average, I work with people for about 18 months to a few years, but it’s just amazing the way people… Their career is just slow and they’re just… They do so great things and they’re happier, right, and they’re excited and we’re growing, and they can see their team growing and their business results improved, and so it just becomes a lot of fun.

27:09 S1: I’m thinking a lot about, as we’re talking about this bad bosses that I’ve had in the past, most of them were in the Navy when I was active duty, but I’ll be perfectly honest here, if one of them said, Well, I’m getting coaching by this lady from Texas in Thornton, and I’m gonna be a new person and I’m really working… I would have said, Bullshit, there’s way… Is that a problem where an individual is working on themselves and that the team refuses to believe that they can change…

27:39 S2: Yeah, it is a huge part of the process is because we can’t change and expect everyone else to wake up and go, Oh, it’s a new day, and you can’t walk in and demand honesty from your team after they’ve been in trouble for it for the last 10 years, right? And so that’s part of the process, is we help individuals learn that this will take time, and we celebrate movement, because every step forward creates a new culture, in a new environment, and it’s like climbing a ladder, the climb a couple of runs and you’re like, Oh, this is making me nervous. It’s kind of high up here, and then you pull in to it and it feels normal, and then you go a couple more, and so I spend a ton of time educating clients on the latter ing and just getting excited, and it’s important for the person who’s changing to validate and recognize, poppy when people give you Sinbad and celebrate it because… And it’s giving permission to those who may not be ready to do it yet, Wellman.

28:44 S1: Go through this and come out successful on the other end. That’s a huge step. And I think if you had willing followers that saw you in this journey, I think they would really be supportive, I just… This is just fascinating to think about that this is actually an addiction, and yet it’s something that a person can actually work hard and dig out of…

29:04 S2: Yeah, you can… And it’s about with conversation intelligence, that addiction to being right is a piece of it, and it’s a big piece of it, but there’s other things to it that we also teach around just changing our language to move people from fear to innovation and really small adjustments. Someone can say something like, I think that’s a great idea, all but now we’ve tried that in the past and it doesn’t work, and so that new person who had this great idea goes back to their desk going, well, I guess they don’t wanna hear my ideas and I guess I just do what I’m supposed to do and you really start to shut them down, and so if someone comes to you and you’ve tried it in the past and it didn’t worry can still want us… But what if you said to that person, Hey, I’m so excited to know you saw this opportunity I saw in the past too, you know, at that time it wouldn’t work, but it’s a bit time, so let’s look at this time and to see if there’s pieces of it that maybe we can get across the finish line this time, that’s a whole different way, that person’s gonna fail when they walk back to their desk, they’re gonna be excited and motivated to be innovative, but just shutting people down never works.

30:16 S1: Yeah, I wonder how many people have been affected by a boss who’s been addicted to being right, and that’s… Would this be something… If you saw this, you would pick it up, is it’s one of those behaviors that you could learn out of just seeing it enough times…

30:32 S2: Seeing the addiction to being right? A few times.

30:35 S1: Right? ’cause a lot of people I know that have never been formally trained as a manager, they just simply do what managers they’ve had… Could this problem… So there’s an addiction piece, but it could it almost be contagious.

30:49 S2: You know what I just a door that you ask that a question, because absolutely what happens is we see organizations that have generational habits, the one person who was led by someone who was Thurman, command and really puffed. And we see that person as, Oh, they got promoted, so I should do that. Then they do it to that next generation of leader, then that next one gets promoted, and then you have generations and levels of your company treating each other this way, and that’s how we start to act, and I do see that all the time. In fact, a company I’m working with right now, the CEO, he’s tough, and one of the things we’re working on is partnerships between the corporate office and operations because they are not kind to each other, I really ugly emails. No. No desire to help each other out. And a lot of it’s led by the fact that that’s what’s rewarded in the company, but it no longer is working, and so they’re gonna have to kind of reward for other things, but you’re absolute right will start to kind of create generational issues.

32:01 S1: Well, you’ve painted a really clear picture of what causes this… What it looks like… How do you start on the journey? Why, we need to take the steps to take care of it, the last thing we got to figure out is how in the world do people reach out to you, Jen? So that you can help them with this problem. I think many people listening to this today are gonna realize, Wow, I didn’t think I had that problem, but I do or… We’ve got a few managers that I believe have this problem, so how can a person reach out to you, Jen, so that you can help them dig out of this hole.

32:35 S2: So you can reach out on our website at 304 Coaching or connect with me on LinkedIn at Jen Thornton-ACC and we can continue the conversation. That’s

32:45 S1: Awesome. Well, Jen, thank you so much for being on the show today. A good podcast, in my opinion, is one where I’ve learned something, I learned a lot today. This is something I guess I never even realized was a thing, and now that I do, I want everybody to hear this message as well, so if you’re listening to this today, please reach out to Jen. I think she painted a pretty, pretty bleak picture of what happens when you don’t tackle this thing, so check her out and let’s help that you can help your folks get through this. Jen, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule. Will be with us today.

33:17 S2: Thank you so much for having me, it was a pleasure. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the HR oxygen podcast. We hope you found something today that will relieve your stress, future soul and pump you up to face another day at base builders, we want to let you know that we appreciate the hard work you do every day as an HR professional, and as a reminder, always make sure. To adjust your own oxygen mask before attempting to help those around you be well.

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