Henry Ford wisely said, “Don’t find fault. Find a remedy.” Why do people feel the need to point out other people’s mistakes? Well, it could be they genuinely want the other person to improve. It could be that they want to help. Or it could be that they are trying to knock the other person down a few pegs to themselves feel powerful in comparison. WikiHow.com shares, “Criticism is futile, because it puts a person on the defensive and causes him to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s pride and arouses resentment. Criticism is vain, because in judging others, we regard ourselves as more righteous than they.”
For some people, their self-esteem and identity is tied to “being right” and “being knowledgeable”. They feel that they are a worthwhile person if they are correct, and more importantly, if other people know it. If you derive your self-esteem from being right… why? Why is that your source of self-esteem? Do you feel embarrassed being wrong or making a mistake? Does that seem rational to you? Surely you must realize that you can’t be right all of the time. You only need to be right 51% of the time and you would make a billion dollars on the stock market this year! If someone was right all the time, they’d have easily developed the cure for cancer, brought peace to the Middle East, and found a solution to world hunger. Since these haven’t been accomplished, you may want to lower your estimation of yourself being “all knowing” a notch, Scooter. Again, only one man ever was, and no one ever will be again. Compulsively correcting people is purely an ego game, and as SpiritualPub.com shares, “One day, you will come to an understanding that in a pretentious game of gratifying your ego, you have auctioned the inner beauty of your soul.”
I have a family member whom I love very much who is, and has always been, right about everything (in their eyes). It’s a sad condition because it holds him back from learning. Why would someone bother learning when they think they already know everything? It might be true we have some expertise in a certain area, but imagine the vast ocean of knowledge we don’t have! Also, is it possible that our suggestion is correct, but someone else’s idea might also have merit? There might be two different solutions to the same problem. 2+2 equals 4, but so does 1+3. And even if we are correct, remember that no one wants to hear about it if we come across as an arrogant know-it-all! (No one… except you!)
The world is filled with people who will tell you what you do wrong. Your friends, family and colleagues are constantly told by everyone around them what they do wrong! Even if your heart is genuinely in a good place and you want to help the other person by correcting them, may I suggest you reconsider? As Dale Carnegie wrote, “When we are wrong, we may admit it to ourselves. And if we are handled gently and tactfully, we may admit it to others and even take pride in our frankness and broad-mindedness. But not if someone else is trying to ram the unpalatable fact down our esophagus.”
If someone is about to make a tiny mistake, to consider letting them know gently. Please don’t come across as a know-it-all. You may want to say, “I could be wrong, but have you considered this? Perhaps there is another way of looking at this problem.” Or, “This is only my opinion, and I certainly am not an expert, but what about this option?” Using language like that leaves a back door for their ego to remain intact. Throw a little uncertainty into your language in order to gently introduce a suggestion. You may also try getting their permission to offer a suggestion. Perhaps something like, “Bob, if I noticed something I felt could really help you, do I have your permission to offer a little tip?” By getting their permission first, they are probably more open to hearing what you have to say. I learned from my mentor it matters less to the other person whether you are right; it matters if their ego and feelings are intact.
Finally, stop yourself and ask, “Who am I to criticize this other man?” Consider all the mistakes you have made throughout your life. It can be pretty easy to feel self-righteous when considering our strengths to another, but what about our flaws compared to their flaws? In John 8:9 Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” I know all of my flaws. Who am I to judge another man? At this point, you may be wondering, “He, wait a minute… is Tim judging me or trying to tear me down?” or “Is Tim trying to teach me people skills?” Actually, I’m trying to show you we all make these common mistakes and we all have value that we and others may not yet see.
Now, naysayers will point out avoiding correcting people doesn’t count for landing airplanes, brain surgery or running a nuclear power plant. Of course there are times when you point out a mistake! If your spouse is driving the car and about to run a red light or crash into someone, don’t AVOID pointing it out in order to dogmatically follow this principle. Use discretion. However, the three extreme examples I just gave are situations where a person is in mortal danger. 99.9% of the time we AREN’T in mortal danger, so the exception won’t apply most of the time! You still need to avoid criticism most of the time!
Fortunately, even a blunt choleric like myself can soften his edges, develop some empathy, and share mentorship and advice from a place of serving rather than correcting. To quote from Bringing Out the Best in People, author Alan Loy McGinnis said, “Good managers and good teachers, on the other hand, do not waste much time doing postmortems on the failures of their people. Instead they look for strengths that others have overlooked and ways to encourage the gifts in their group.” If you want to become a better leader, I’d encourage you to bite your tongue when you feel you are about to criticize, and instead, point out what someone has done correctly.
God Bless, Tim Marks