You Must Be Mistaken

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

In one my my early jobs I worked with an extremely talented Vietnamese engineer who had gotten out of Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in a leaky fishing boat with his father and brother. It was a difficult journey but they managed to escape, avoid drowning,  and ultimately resettle in San Jose.

We were hired on the same day and went through orientation together.  He was quiet and kept to himself but we were assigned to the same project and  got to know one another over the course of a few months working together.

One day I said something that really made him angry.

I said “that can’t be right, you must be mistaken. You should try it again.” I think we were discussing which compiler switches needed to be set to solve a particular problem.

He said “when I tell you something, it’s because I have tried it and I know that it’s true.”

I hadn’t seen him angry before and was a little taken aback. But I realized that he was very serious and that I had screwed up and challenged him in a way that I had not intended.

I try and remember this when I am responding to folks who tell me something that is contrary to my personal experience.

Backing someone into a corner rarely works. I can often learn something new if I say something like this instead: “That’s interesting, I have never seen that happen before, can you tell me more about it?”

This also works with prospects, customers, co-workers, business partners, children, spouses, and most other humans.

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Comments (1)

  • Dave Concannon


    Good tip! I worked in tech support early in my career, and it was pretty common for a customer to flat out deny that any given button that you’ve asked them to press is on the screen in front of them. New technicians tended to start an argument at this point.

    The easiest way around it was a variation of your statement above: “That’s odd – I have it on mine, perhaps we have different versions. Can you read out what you see?”. Inevitably the customer would read out the title of the exact button they swore wasn’t there 30 seconds previously.


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