More than 50 years ago, Dale Carnegie was among the most famous, recognizable authors in America. He wrote the bestseller How to Win Friends & Influence People in 1936.
While standing with a friend in a Los Angeles hotel lobby in the early 1950s, Carnegie overheard two women discussing whether he was the Dale Carnegie. Finally, one of them approached him and said, “You aren’t Dale Carnegie. I’m sure of that. You aren’t him, are you?”
“Well, you could be right,” he replied with a smile.
After the woman walked away, Carnegie’s friend asked him, “Dale, why didn’t you tell her that she was wrong?”
“She was so sure I wasn’t Dale Carnegie,” he said. “I didn’t want to disappoint her.”
The current president and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training, Peter Handal, tells this story to make a point: Think twice before you contradict others.
When you inform people that they’re wrong, you risk alienating them. Even if your intent is to help them gain accurate information or prevent misunderstanding, your attempt to correct them can come across as an aggressive act. No matter how diplomatically you communicate, others might hear you say, “I’m superior to you” or “You’re not too bright, are you?” and take offense.
In some cases, the decision to contradict others sets the stage for an argument. They may interpret your comment as a challenge rather than a helpful observation. That can lead them to fight back and resist your claims.
Find an indirect way to say, “You’re wrong.” For example, summarize in neutral language how you perceive the situation and ask, “That’s my understanding. Is it possible we’re looking at different data?”
“By asking a question, you let others conclude for themselves that they’re wrong,” Handal says. “That’s better than telling them.”