My wife Kathleen and I had an interesting incident happen on a flight from Nashville the other day. She had brought a small roll-aboard case that you normally have to gate check when you fly on the smaller, regional jets. But while this looks the same as most, it’s actually considerably smaller, and even on the small jets fits nicely into the overhead compartment. We boarded the flight, and put our bags up, but when the flight attendant tried to shut the compartment she couldn’t get it closed. Looking at Kathleen’s bag, she immediately assumed that was the problem, and launched into a rather loud speech about how she needed to check the bag. Kathleen tried to explain that it fit fine, but the flight attendant wouldn’t hear of it and went forward to get a luggage tag.
While she was gone, Kathleen got up and quickly realized it was actually my small canvas bag that was the problem. I hadn’t pushed it in all the way, so the strap was blocking the compartment door. With a little push on my bag the door shut easily.
When the flight attendant came back she was flustered and a little embarrassed, because she had made such a big deal out of it in front of all the passengers. Realizing she had been wrong, she tried to defend herself by lecturing us on the rules she has to obey and how bags have to be measured, blah, blah, blah.
For the rest of the flight, she was cold toward us. She served us, but without a smile, and never looked us in the eye. She didn’t like us at all.
It made me realize the importance of giving people an “out” when you’re proven right. In that case, even though Kathleen was correct and the flight attendant was wrong, it didn’t help us for her to be angry and inattentive for the rest of the flight. It’s the same way in business situations. Being right is a good thing, but if it happens at the expense of your adversary, then it can poison the relationship for a long time.
I’ve had many clients who had someone on their team who disagreed with me – sometimes very strongly. I knew that even if I prove them wrong, it won’t help in the long term because I’ll have to continue working with them. So I had to create a way for everyone to realize the truth, without him being embarrassed or hurt.
I hope you’ll always be correct in your business dealings. But I also hope you allow your adversary to save face – to keep their dignity and help them back out of the situation without being embarrassed or humiliated. Believe me – for a host of reasons, allowing them to save face can be a far greater win for you than being right.