Chronic Certainty
/ Author: CLAC Staff
/ Categories: Guide magazine /
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Chronic Certainty

Ever work with someone who thinks they’re always right? No matter what you say, they are so certain in their views that there’s nothing you can do to change their mind.

It can be very frustrating to work with someone who thinks they’re always right because, guess what, sometimes they’re wrong. When dealing with someone with chronic certainty, you need to figure out what their underlying biases are. Don’t be fooled—they’re there. You just have to look for them. 

In some cases, the chronically certain person has a history of past success that then turns into overconfidence bias. Past success breeds hubris, not humility. Or they may have some deeply seated unconscious bias that serves as a foundation for their views. This is often the case when dealing with chronically certain views that are clearly not based in any objective reality.

The temptation is to confront them head on. Don’t. You will soon find yourself mired in an argument that can get out of hand. Instead, slow the conversation down and approach their views as if they have legitimacy to get at the root of their certainty.

If their certainty represents a pattern, have a separate conversation. Tell the person that you feel that they assert their views in a way that makes you want to dismiss them and that it would help if they considered your views too, even if they don’t agree with you. 

Some organizational cultures can make the problem worse if appearing uncertain is perceived as weakness. In highly competitive organizations, always appearing certain can be a survival mechanism. 

If you’re in a leadership role, you can avoid this by having your people come to meetings with pros and cons to ideas. This forces them to think of different points of view to a problem and how to solve it.

On the flip side, be aware that your own confirmation bias may make you dismiss others’ certainty because their view doesn’t conform to your own views. Just because a colleague thinks he or she is always right doesn’t mean that they’re not right on whatever issue you are discussing. By dismissing deeply held views out of hand, even from someone with chronic certainty, you may be dismissing crucial information that could lead you to make a very bad decision. 

Listening doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with your coworker’s view. Instead, it will help them feel safe to express themselves. It also models to them that it’s important to look at all viewpoints. By doing so, you will encourage them to reexamine their certainty. 

The last thing you should do in a discussion with someone with chronic certainty is shame them, dismiss their views without hearing them, or escalate the argument with your own die-hard views. Those who are chronically certain will only view you as irrational and defensive. 

Instead, listen, be careful not to react, don’t be quick to judge, and pay attention to your own biases and how they may affect how you perceive what the person is saying. It may not be possible to come to agreement on an issue where there’s opposing views, but you may be able find some common ground, and avoid doing serious damage to your workplace relationships and culture.

Source: Harvard Business Review

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