3 Reasons Why People Won’t Admit They’re Wrong

apologizeThis article was also published by Huffington Post under a different title.

Wouldn’t it be great if when people were wrong, they could just ‘fess up, apologize and take different actions to moving forward? Just imagine the increased opportunities of positive and productive workplaces. Call me a dreamer!

Unfortunately, egos get in the way and fear stops us from acting on our healthier options.

Recently, I’ve had 2 different people consult with me who had almost identical stories. They were each facing managers who are behaving in a prejudiced manner based strictly on malicious gossip. They were taking advantage of my free consult.

In a gossip ridden workplace, a team can take a dislike to one individual. This can happen when the person has stated the obvious, much to the discomfort of the rest of the group. Sometimes they have outperformed their colleagues or received recognition of some type.

In both these cases, the managers have refused to engage in a constructive dialogue and simply aligned themselves with rumors and gossip. The managers had had meetings with my callers and accused them, as though the rumors were fact. (It’s hard to fix what you didn’t do.) Those being gossiped about are being used as scapegoats for the dysfunction of the environment.

They each asked me why these managers were treating them so unfairly, not even open to hearing their versions of what really happened. Conspiracy theories aside, for the managers to change course, they would have to admit they may have been wrong and listen.

I’ve noticed there are 3 recurrent reasons someone won’t admit they’re wrong and turn off their ability to listen.


1- Cognitive dissonance

When they hear these planted doubts, they start looking for little clues that it “might be” true and form a solid opinion. Convincing themselves, they become complicit in scapegoating the person by accusing instead of gathering data. They need to believe the majority and will create justifications in their mind. Even if they realize they might be wrong, if they value the relationships with the gossipers, they will figure out an excuse to make it fit.

Good leaders will address the gossip. But a poor manager will blame the victim for the discord and align with the team, justifying the complaints.

2- Afraid to make a mistake

If they always need to save face, they identify success with always being right. Saying “I might have made a mistake” is emotionally painful and puts them in a state of loss of power. They will avoid admitting an error, unless refusing to do so creates a lot more pain than ‘fessing up.

What feeds this is that they are great at keeping track of the times they got what they wanted which provides proof to themselves that staying the course regardless is a strength. This mindset is very rigid.

3- Never learned how

Our role models growing up impacts all of us in the way we see the world. If they saw a competitive, critical environment; they learned that they must make decisions quickly and not look back, to keep their eye on the prize. Being exposed to a lot of competitiveness, it is more likely that they react to their environment with the prism that everything is a war zone of winners and losers. “The goal is the goal is the goal and collateral damage is normal as long as I win.”

Regardless of the reason, if you are the victim of someone who is treating you unfairly, there are only 3 things you can choose to do moving forward.

Before you choose an option, it is important to first reflect on whether you think the relationship is salvageable or is very important to keep. The value of keeping this relationship informs which of these 3 actions we will take.


1- Adapting to the environment

If you choose to do nothing, you are adapting to the behavior. This mode can be very useful when we are allowing things to cool down. Staying out of the line of fire is a temporary remedy and can be harmful to our mental wellness in the long run. If you are ready to consent to their treatment and allow the behaviors to continue, you are accepting that this is OK with you.

That is not healthy in the long run because constructive dialogue is necessary to move forward. Don’t plan to live there.

2- Changing the environment

This always starts with reviewing our own behavior. Then we must decide how to change our responses to their behavior to get a different reaction from them. If we are getting defensive, that will escalate the difficulties.

When trying to create change, we must be looking for our common goals and dialogue on the things we can agree on first. Using an unbiased person as a sounding board gives us confidence and keeps us from over-reacting.

3- Leaving the environment

When things are never going to change and we are unhappy (or our well being could become compromised) it is our responsibility to look for a healthier situation. Without the ability to dialogue in a fair and open manner, leaving and cutting our losses must be considered.

Sometimes, leaving is simply not an option. Only you can discern your own situation. If you have no choice but to stay, double check with an unbiased person to evaluate if there really are no other options. Then, if you know you should leave but cannot, protect yourself by getting some support to change the environment. It’s an investment in yourself.

Have you ever witnessed or been victim to unfair gossip or accusations? Or worse, have you had to deal with an angry person that seems to have it out for you and attacks you unfairly?



2 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why People Won’t Admit They’re Wrong

  1. Hi Monique,
    Nice assay on this human issue. One aspect I have found is that in most management scenarios people are promoted to those positions due to technical knowledge rather than self discipline and human behavioural and issue resolution skill/problem solving capacity. There are people who are very intelligent but with very poor self discipline, and/or have their own behavioural issues. All is driven by motives and their training (life training). Only those who have typically done the hard yards themselves or experienced adversity, or have an old head are typically wise and skilled enough to be good managers of people. And even then the structure of workplaces can impact, intimidate even quality managers who may not wish to stick their head out.
    Human beings are extremely complex but the reasons for these complexities are typically simple and relate to self image and motive, self image and motive even if the individual is not consciously aware of their own drivers or the link between their behaviour and self image protection/alignment. Thanks for your site. RobG

    • Hi Rob, I agree with your perceptions. We are certainly complex and influenced by many factors. Thanks so much for your comment. I’m always interested in how others are experiencing these challenges in the workplace. Reach out with any questions. I personally read all my emails. 🙂

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