Michael Porter

The Unbearable Rightness of Being

I may be wrong, but “rightness” is a problem.

Not the rightness of being politically conservative (right) in relation to the liberal (left), although both groups suffer rightness

Rightness difficulties begin with the ego, ideology or other constructs. Trouble arises when these foundations of a personality, organization or culture so completely embrace a world view in terms of non-facts (opinion, belief and “action”) that the humans involved can no longer become aware of any alternate perspective. These folks no longer resemble the horse with blinders which narrow focus to only what it can see ahead. In their case, the slats have been folded over the eyes completely, leaving the wearer to imagine only what was ahead in the mind.

Whether this absolutism is driven by upbringing, faith, coercion, the media or other factors becomes immaterial. Persuasion of the righteous from one right to another represents a difficult, if not impossible.

So, how does any of this relate to communication?

We all deal with people insulated by rightness (only other people; never you or me). Whether rooted in insecurity or genuine narcissism, at some point it may cross our minds to take up the challenge of helping these zealots see a sliver of fault in their logic. That takes persuasion, which is a process.

The persuasion process ALWAYS begins with making the audience aware of the new or alternate information or perspective. This gets weighed by the audience member (no “s” - this is personal), who decides whether this information changes his or her opinion. Beliefs are much harder to dislodge (once you believe the world is round, making it flat again takes a really big hammer). Ultimately we want our new believer to do something: take action. These may be tiny, actual actions, like taking home a trial size tube of tooth paste, or more substantial or even esoteric, like stop blowing things up or out of proportion.

Sometimes, helping the audience become aware and ultimately believe that their rightness may be less than absolute will benefit them as well. For instance, when the intention of the actions of their rightness was to preserve the civil rights of one group, but their choice of action infringed on the civil rights of others, diminishing the persuasive value of the action and hurting an otherwise worthy cause.

My personal observation of the world, at least as depicted in traditional and social media, suggests that rightness is a growth industry. This may be tempered slightly by the overwhelming presence of cute cat videos, but both cause concern.

I may be wrong.


Dr. Michael C. Porter, APR is director of the Master of Business Communication and the MS in Health Care Communication in the Opus College of Business.