29

As the title already mentions I have a problem with a so-called "perfect" person.

I'm part of a studying community in which every age is allowed. So we are a really mixed community, we have older and younger ones. We are no troublemakers and usually try to prevent any needless disputes. Since we accept the younger ones too, we recently encountered a problem. A young girl joined us, and she always wants to be the best. Because we accept everyone, we even have some people with a high academic degree in our studying group. I really have no problem with ambitious people, but it is kind of annoying to always see her arguing with people who are definitely superior to her and right. Also, she seems to be really upset if she is wrong. I don't know what we should do.

Actually, we would like to educate her as everyone else, still, we don't have the time, and the nerves, to take care of her personally every time.

How can we tell her that her "perfect" and stubborn manner is really out of line without make her leave?

30

Just because someone is older or more educated that doesn't mean they will be right, or know better that someone younger with less education. She probably sees things that way.

Also sometimes people that seem very stubborn is because have a hard time explaining themselves. So you could try helping her to get her point across. Asking her questions and stuff. Sometimes you don't tell someone they are wrong, just make smart questions that will make her see she is wrong.

I don't know on what context these arguments occur, but if she is obviously wrong someone should be able to prove it. In that case I would show her why she is wrong and challenge her to disprove it.

There can not be a healthy discussion if one side is always ignoring what the other side is saying. If she doesn't ignore what other people say, she will realize she is wrong.

After that if she gets mad, well, that is her problem. It is just part of life and she will have to learn to deal with it.

However if you try to empathize with her, don't use words like "but". Such as "I can see where you are coming from, but..." because that is antagonizing, and is cancelling your first sentence of empathy. This is a very hard thing to do, but it is important for when you have situations like this.

Finally once she has been proven wrong, just ignore her unless she has something to offer. Again, I don't know what the context is, but you could have a moderator validating any new "entry" to that topic. Or if she wants to say something she has to limit herself to answer the latest argument against her position. If she can't, move to the next topic or aspect of the topic, but act like nothing happened, ask for her opinion, that way she will feel it is not something terrible to be wrong, and she can move on also.

Don't stay on a topic forever if there are new ideas worth saying. If a topic is dragging a long time, you can set time aside for later discussion when people has cooled off and in the meantime continue with the next topic.

If it seems not possible to get to an agreement, agree to disagree. Sometimes is just not possible to have everyone in agreement. If you gave her sound proof that she is wrong. And she insists and you don't want to continue, agree to disagree.

If she is being disrespectful, ask politely to keep the talk civilized but direct the request to everyone.

Eventually she will learn, or she will leave.

She may be upsetting the group, but it is better if the group learns how to deal with this kind of things.

You can't shun away everyone that upsets you. Take it as a learning opportunity on conflict management.

  • So much sound advice! Head hurts! – Feuermurmel Oct 28 '15 at 0:32
  • @Feuermurmel - lol, well, I hope it provides more help than pain ;) – Sky Oct 28 '15 at 11:41
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    Regarding the "but" paragraph - I agree it's aggravating to hear that, yet (ha, see what I did here?) sometimes it's exactly what you want to say. Show the other side that you understand their stance even though they're still wrong: "I've been there and since then I've learnt why I was wrong". How should one emphatize? That's what I missing in this answer. – Maurycy Jan 11 '16 at 18:22
  • @Maurycy - Psychologically speaking if you use words like "but", the other person won't feel like you understand them, and I think they may be right, you are cancelling your previous empathetic sentence and good intentions with the "but", like "I care a lot about this, but..". If you care there is not but, just an example. It is something they stress a lot on conflict management, the most important thing is not to antagonize. I didn't add more details on that sentence, because it really depends on the case, and it is really something extremely hard to use. – Sky Jan 12 '16 at 12:56
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    @Maurycy - I think the most important is to be honest, don't say they are right, maybe paraphrase what the other person was saying, and diverge where they are going wrong. It is a topic for a different question, I don't think I have enough space here, hehe, but if you give an specific example maybe I could answer you. – Sky Jan 12 '16 at 12:58
9

She might be finding it hard to fit in. Most people do at first, especially considering you "make it sound" like you are for the most part a well established group, and a group of intelligent people at that.
Perhaps she is trying overly hard to fit in and be part of the group, and not wanting to come across as being less intelligent than others.

Approach with the attitude that everyone deserves an opinion, and if you disagree with her (or anyone) then a friendly and civil response is best. If the response is contradictory, which is sounds like it mostly needs to be, be as constructive and friendly as possible, with some level of understanding as to why she thought this, instead of just pointing out "only" why she is "wrong".
I know in a think tank or group of people studying, a logical and straight answer is best for quick learning and getting to the meat of the discussion or problem, but some people take that as offensive etc.

So my suggestion is to try to get her to understand being wrong is not a bad thing, everyone is wrong at some point and the point of being here is to learn from each other, including changing thoughts/opinions when we discover we are wrong.

Also, choose responses which compliment her thought in some way before telling her why it isn't ideal (where possible).

eg instead of:
"Well, that's not right because.." or "I disagree because.."
Say:
"I see why you would think that, I used to [or] I actually thought that myself, but then I realised that.." and "In some scenarios that may well be a great idea/option/thing, actually I might pinch that [hehe], however unfortunately in this scenario..".


While your placing extra effort into your responses to her specifically is perhaps not fair on others, it might be worth a try.
This might help build up some confidence in her and show you don't all think less of her, and she is as welcome as anyone to "your group" and can see everyone has wrong/poor ideas now and then.
Then you can slowly treat her the same as everyone else.

If nothing works (including other suggestions others might make) then you have to perhaps bite the bullet and whoever is "in charge" (group leader, official or not, just a representative etc) needs to have a private (no-one else can hear) friendly chat with her to explain all this.
Include telling her you know she's new, and it can be hard at first as everyone is opinionated and while discussions never turn to arguments or uncivil in anyway, they can get heated as everyone feels strongly about their opinion.
She just has to learn that when she is wrong, to identify it, accept it, learn from it, and try to make up for it when she does have a good idea/opinion/etc.

9

It really depends on the situation, and I'm not sure there is enough detail here to tell exactly which kind of situation you are dealing with.

She may be a know it all who really feels that she is right and everyone else is wrong. If she refuses to see she is incorrect or concede any point no matter how politely they are brought up or explained, then there may not be much you can do. Some people think they are right and the world is wrong. They generally don't have much of an idea of how things actually work and in their head, they have an overly simple model that they think they understand perfectly. It can be extremely difficult to bring such people to the table and in to the fold in a productive manner.

There are other people, who believe they have a solid understanding and are resistant but open to counter arguments. These people will generally put up a strong defense to their ideas, but will also willingly concede when they are proven wrong. Depending on personality, they may either be unphased by being wrong or may be somewhat upset by it (as the feel like it made them look foolish.)

For the former (of which I am often a member), there isn't really an issue that needs addressing, you can perhaps talk to them about the issue politely but directly if they seem to be missing a lot. It will be a bit hard for them, but if you are reassuring that you like having them around and think they do have something to offer, it should be fine.

For the later, I suppose it doesn't change a whole lot, you just have to be far more reassuring and using kid gloves to break it to them gently. The big thing to keep in mind about these two subsets of the group is that they know that they can make mistakes, they just have life experience that tells them they are often correct and therefore want a burden of proof that they are wrong. These kinds of people will also tend to self-resolve as they learn who in the community is really knowledgeable (and thus worthy of trusting to be right) and who isn't.

Finally, you have a possible situation where the individual is scared of being wrong. They may well understand when they are wrong, but try to save face. The best thing in these cases is simply to be reassuring of their value to make sure that they know the community doesn't see them being wrong on something as a bad thing. Point out that it is more frustrating when you have to argue a point and help them to see that they are better off by accepting and moving on and that they won't be judged for it.

  • I would add to this that she may be right on occasion. I hit this from the other side. When we were covering conjunctions in third grade I thought the model presented in the book was overly simple, but I could not convince the teacher of that. Twenty years later I found out I was right and that complex conjunctives exist and are useful to describe what I ate in third grade, but not covered in third grade, jr. high, sr. high or freshman english. So apologies to Mrs Martel, but you should have kept your college textbooks for when you hit a real problem kid. – hildred Jun 21 '15 at 0:34
5

In Germany we have a system where students who are especially interested and exceeding in a subject can be employed at a institute and do research work themselves. Last year I had a very similar situation with a very bright girl, who also wanted always to be perfect and right, having a very rough time accepting criticism.

All the comments above wrap up very beautifully what it feels like for a young person (especially a girl at a technical university and at an institute famous for being the playground of all the nerdy students) to be in a situation like this. Of course, when those young people are so stuck under their own pressure on themselves not to fail, it is part of my job to help them trough but also not to let the work progress suffer because of that.

We had this conversation where she insisted that something is technically impossible in a software system I spent my last 5 years developing. And a long, argumentative discussion could not convince her to let go and understand so I had to show it to her (after having spent some 25 min in discussion). It was a rough day for me an my colleagues, which she was aware of. So after I showed her how things work, I just asked her to consider how many chances to learn she is eliminating for herself when she is not ready to have a more relaxed "what if..." and not "my one truth" perspective on things. This would have been completely enough, she got it. But then I also explained her, what an impact the blocked, non-accepting attitude has or could have on the work progress and the schedule in general and on the work of the entire team if we can not open ourselves and trust the knowledge of others and everyone of us had to take 30 min every time when someone has doubts ins something. I didn't expect it to happen immediately, so I was surprised that she embraced it on this very spot. But if it hadn't happened it would be clear for me that I will have to try one more time because change does not happen overnight normally.

We don't preach an attitude to our students, we ask them the questions to make them think themselves and find their own best solution. And a different attitude is a different perspective: in research often it is all you need to solve a serious problem after a long "battle" against. Her trying to be "perfect" is a kind of compliment to you and the work you all are doing together. I would have lost it completely if I tried to make her adapt to my approach and attitude.

4

If I joined your group and disagreed with something someone said, what do you suggest I do? Sorry, but if this is especially my area of study, I'm going to need to know why your answer is better. We learn better by thinking and understanding and not just mindlessly soaking up facts even if they come from "superiors." That's what under-graduates do.

Is this what irritates or is it the fact she does it too often? Maybe you can suggest that the study group needs to move along and there isn't time to debate every concept. Possibly schedule the last 10-15 minutes for such discussions or suggest she and the other person have a discussion at another time outside of the group.

The fact she gets upset when proven wrong is really her problem, but if her reactions are that aversive to the group, you may want to suggest it might be to her benefit to study somewhere else or keep her emotions in check. This could be a coping mechanism.

For whatever reason she wants to show she's smart/knows the subject matter. She may feel like if she behaves in a competitive fashion, it will help her learn and prove herself. I do think the group should let her know that you prefer to be more cooperative. Her behavior is taking time from other members of the group.

3

Actually, it's worth noting that her behaviour is an attempt to 'prove' herself (that why she can't handle being wrong, and is attempting to overachieve), essentially a hidden inferiority complex. Telling her she is wrong, or trying to prove she is wrong, will reinforce the inferiority complex (because it will feel like she is being invalidated) - this will in turn result in even greater efforts to prove herself right.

I don't know if your group engages in debates as part of it's discourse, but if it's not necessary, then the easiest way is to just wind down and discourage debate (something like: 'we all have our opinions, and it's best we work together rather than try to sway others').

If debate is necessary, incap and ringfence the debate - set a timelimit, acknowledge everyone has their views they strongly believe, and rather than trying to convince each other, encourage they contribute their views.

Your first step would be to encourage her to see the validity of other people's views - from a logical standpoint, their unique experiences, from an emotional one, their upbringing, childhood, and lifetime.

You must also validate her own views - but not with praise (this assauges the ego but doesn't solve the inferiority complex), but with the sense that she's part of the community. Integrate, don't isolate.

You could help break the ice - teambuilding exercises that forces them to work with each other (make sure it isn't one where 'blame' can be assigned, or she might think 'I could do that better' - which defeats the point). You could have an exercise where people have to ghostwrite each others experiences - so she has to listen to them (doesn't have the answer), and someone listens to her. Close off by saying we all have something to contribute, even if we don't always see eye to eye.

Either way, whatever you plan to do, don't invalidate her (by punishment or scolding), but also don't praise (listening should suffice, and just offering the view everybody has something to contribute). She's from an academic background where teamwork isn't a concept that's necessarily needed, and just needs an experience that shows it's necessary to both delegate and work together.

  • 1
    I am not sure if this advice will work in this case: in (natural) scientific communities and discussions it is in most cases possible to objectively tell who is right and who is wrong. Science is not about personal opinions, personal beliefs, or personal experience conversely to what popular media too often want to make the non-expert audience think. If the community is as I suspect focused on some scientific topics, overrating wrong notions, personal beliefs, and wrong misleading points of view for the sake of being overly nice, polite, politically correct, or whatever would help nobody. – just_curious Sep 7 '15 at 11:31

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