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Effective Leadership: Correcting Without Offending

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Thursday, June 27, 2024

People make mistakes. As a leader in your organization, household, or friend circle, you’ll need to manage people and correct them when mistakes or misdeeds arise. While you can’t control another’s reactions to your critiques and feedback, you can soften the blow by cushioning it in a way that’s easier to take.

Your leadership largely depends on how willing others are to follow you. And someone you’ve offended can become unwilling in a heartbeat.

​An effective leader must correct and redirect those they lead when they make mistakes but in a way that doesn’t damage their relationship. Taking some tips from Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and Napoleon Hill’s influential business mindset book, “Think and Grow Rich,” let’s discuss how to correct without offending.


Begin With Praise

Acknowledge the good in the person first. Sincerely praise them and let them know the attributes you appreciate about them. Be specific and honest, so you don’t come across as insincere.

Who doesn’t love a compliment? Put your disappointment on the back burner and focus on all the good qualities of the person you are critiquing. Your listener will absorb your words more constructively when you draw attention to what you’re honestly satisfied with at the beginning of your conversation.

​Compliment them on things they do well, and they’ll feel pride. They are more likely to want to please you going forward by correcting whatever flaw you’re about to bring up.


Indirectly Bring up Errors

After praising your person, call attention to their error indirectly. Carnegie’s best tip for side-stepping towards your complaint is to avoid using the word ‘but.’

‘But’ is like a scratch in a record–the music and good feelings come to a screeching halt. Everything you buttered them up with beforehand goes out the window with that word. They’ll likely doubt the praise you just heaped on them.

​Instead, replace the word ‘but’ with ‘and.’ This minor adjustment makes a big difference mentally and emotionally.


Talk About Your Mistakes

Get on your listener’s level by admitting your past mistakes. Your admission humanizes you and shows them that you don’t expect perfection. Everyone is capable of making and fixing mistakes.

​Highlight how you overcame your faults. It can help your listener devise their own plans for fixing theirs.


Ask Questions Instead of Giving Orders

Guide people towards the right path by cleverly providing suggestions disguised as questions. They’ll be so proud of themselves for figuring out how to fix their mistakes. They’ll take ownership of the change, taking it more seriously.

​If given the choice between following someone else’s orders or having the opportunity to complete a task the way they see fit, most will choose to do it their way. So, guiding them gently with questions like “What do you think of _____ idea?” will result in better outcomes than expressly telling them what to do and how to do it.


Help Them ‘Save Face’

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their feelings. If you would want someone to help you avoid embarrassment, do the same for them.

​Find what another person is good at and create roles that fit their unique abilities and talents instead of dismissing or firing them. You’ll keep a skilled employee while gaining a new role another talented person can fill.


Encourage With Praise

Praise every improvement, even the slightest of them. Your people need to hear encouragement during tough times. Finding things that need improvement is easier than seeing things that don’t. Look for the good anyway, however small, and praise away to keep up morale.

​Remember that everyone has strengths and weaknesses when looking for something positive to say. A task that may take you minutes could take someone else hours. But remember, the opposite is just as true–a different task may take minutes for them but hours for you to complete.


Establish a Reputation They’ll Live Up To

Compliment someone on something they are good at (or have the potential to be good at). More often than not, others will rise to the level of your expectations. Focusing on their positive attributes establishes a stronger bond. They’ll want to do their best because you believe in them, you made them believe in themselves, and they’ll want to make you and themselves proud.


Make Corrections Seem Easy

Encourage others to correct their mistakes by letting them know how much faith you have in them. You know they will do their best to achieve their objective.

​Avoid discouraging them. Keep acknowledging the things that are going right instead of what isn’t.


Keep Them Happy

To correct others without offending them, make them happy about doing what you suggest. Let’s look at some examples of how you might do this.

  • Give them challenging roles if they need the challenge.
  • ​Give them easier roles if they need them.
  • ​Allow them a choice of roles or projects that best fit their skill sets.
  • ​Honor them with rewards and awards.
  • ​Explain how they benefit.

Master Positivity

In “Think and Grow Rich,” one of the best-known books by Napoleon Hill, Hill beautifully sums up the crux of all the above tips: the importance of thinking positively.

Mindfully choose the thoughts you think. Thoughts are potent influencers in life.

Positivity is the essential component to influencing change in people. You should sincerely feel the person brings some strengths to the table to effectively acknowledge their positives. That can be easier said than done in the heat of the moment, but practice looking for the good in everybody and every situation every day.

​You can affect more change through encouragement and empathy than through raising your voice and being feared.


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