Here are five tips that can be helpful in the event that we need to correct someone to benefit both them and us.
Working with people is not always easy.
All of us encounter situations where someone else’s behavior be it a singular occasion or a habit is detrimental to that person, to you, or to other people.
And you want to help them.
But gracious confrontation is not something you’re great at. Or perhaps you think you’re doing it well, but the people you want to change around you aren’t actually changing (I’m looking at you family members who think endlessly lecturing other family members is effective…).
Correcting and helping people is something that I’m not still perfect at but I after talking with so many people are just not great at it, I figure some of the things I’ve learned along the journey are worth sharing.
So, for the sake of others and their growth as people and disciples, for your sanity, here are five tips that I feel are great for correcting and helping people.
1.Talk to people When You’re Not Emotional
Like most communication, I think one of the most important things in correcting people is not what we are saying but how we are saying things.
And a lot of how we are saying things is from our emotional state when we approach a person. You always want to do things as they are done to you so imagine this–how would you like to be corrected? From someone who is clearly angry at you, or someone who carries spirit of grace? From someone is emotionally frantic or someone who is composed and appears to give you solid advice from a stable place?
I think the answer is obvious–someone who can talk to you graciously and in a composed manner. After all, we really are all fragile people. And being highly emotional when approaching someone has a high probability of evoking a defensive response (which is bad).
So I have found it helpful to avoid correcting people right after the situation happens.
That’s usually when I’m most annoyed, angry, offended, etc. Yes, that means holding your peace and letting people make their mistakes initially. Also, more importantly, it is easier for people to see their own actions objectively when they’re removed from the situation.
I learned this from I feel the way God corrects me. One thing I know for sure is that every time God corrects me, he’s always super gracious, gentle, and loving about it. The second thing I noticed is that God usually does it when I’m already away from the situation.
So if someone is consistently late to events, and it bothers the heck of you, don’t correct them the moment they walk in late. Find a casual moment after you’ve settled down, after they’ve settled down, and begin that conversation.
2. Correct People When You Have Loved them Enough.
The end of correction is always love. It is never vengeance, retribution, or a reason to vent your frustration.
Love is what builds people up. It is wanting to help people walk in their destiny in the Lord and to be better people. Vengeance is tearing people down and destroying people down.
Never correct someone if it is not done in love.
And the hard part is…love is not something you can conjure up in the moment. Love is prior actions which have communicated to the person that, in the end, their best interest has been in your mind.
I remember this one time, a person in our church had done something pretty inappropriate. My wife urged me to correct this person. I thought about it, and told her, “I can’t. I don’t have the authority to do so because I have not loved him enough.”
I did not think I had enough of a relationship with him with actions or conversations that demonstrated that I care about it to have the authority to speak into his life.
You see, when people are amped up about correcting someone, they can often think that have a right to correct someone. But it is not “rights” which allow access to speak into people’s lives–it is love.
When people recognize that you love them, it frames the conversation, yielding them more willing to listen. And it should frame the way you begin the conversation, hence the next step which I think is crucial.
3. Start the Conversation with Honoring the Person
Okay, so we are no longer emotional about the situation and we have loved the person we want to correct. It begs the question, “How should we start the conversation? What should we say?”
Here’s a powerful suggestion–start with honoring the person.
(If you don’t know what great honor is, you should really check out Bill Johnson’s teaching on it.)
Honoring is basically seeing someone as God sees them and as God sees them to be one day. It is seeing that they are not just this absent minded person who is making mistakes right now, but they have a great calling and great destiny.
So here’s a quick example of how to honor someone at the start of the conversation:
“Hey Joe, can we talk about something?” … “You know you’re an amazing person, and you’re called to be an amazing man of God. But there’s something in your actions recently that I really wanted to talk to you about.”
Starting with honor really frames the conversation so well. It’s not manipulation. It’s not flattery. You only say it if you mean it because people know if you’re BS’ing them.
Starting with honor helps you too because it will help you remember what this correction is really about.
It is about helping others walk into their destiny, not getting your vengeance or venting your frustrations. It helps you remember who people are beyond their mistakes, and who God made them to be, a perspective that should always inform the way we speak to people. (As a matter of fact, we should be honoring people way more than we should be correcting people).
And that perspective of honoring others is all too crucial to be fostered within us before correcting them in love.
3. Next: Name Your Observations
Okay, here is my big secret to correction. When I correct, I always, always, always use observations.
They are such a great way to bring up the behavior, trend, attitude that you feel the person needs growth in. Why are observations great? I think observations are great because they are judgment free.
What I mean by that is that, when we correct someone, it is hard, presumptuous, and difficult to accuse someone of their hearts, something that we want to do when we’re correcting someone. It is more fair to start a set of palpable observations that you have about that person.
Here’s some examples:
Judging (bad): Hey, I don’t think you really care about our relationship
Observation: Hey I noticed that a lot of times I call you but you don’t call me back.
Judging (bad): You know that you’re really rude and disrespectful during our meetings.
Observation: Hey I noticed that during our meetings, you tend to be on your phone.
Judging (bad): You’re really flirtatious
Observation: Hey I noticed that when you spend time with members of that opposite sex you tend to be pretty physical e.g. hugs, stroking, etc..
You see the difference?
We make observations about people’s actions and behaviors, which are unbiased. You’re more likely to garner a non-defensive response because people will always defend their intentions. But we don’t know people’s intentions. We only know for certain their actions.
The point of naming observations is to get people seeing the same perspective. It forms the starting ground for conversation.
And if you name your observation really well, you should pause to see if they see what you saw. In an ideal situation, they will say something along the lines of: “Yes, that’s what I did.”
If you get there, you’re well on your way, friend.
4. Provide the Implications of Their Actions
Once you can agree on observations about the person’s actions or at least propose your observation (sometimes people don’t realize what they’re doing). You can therefore name the implication of their actions.
Let’s use the prior examples and build on them.
Person A (Observation): Hey I noticed that a lot of times I call you but you don’t call me back.
Person B: Yeah, you’re right. I’ve been getting your calls. I’ve just been really busy.
Person A (Implication): Yeah I can understand that. Hey you know that I really care about our friendship. When I call you and you don’t call me back, it makes me feel like I’m not important to you.
Person A (Observation): Hey I noticed that during our meetings, you tend to be on your phone.
Person B: Oh, yeah sometimes my wife calls me.
Person A (More Observation): I see. Hey did you know that when you’re on your phone, people in our meeting get pretty distracted by your phone ringing and your talking. Multiple people turn their heads multiple times during your conversation and I notice that even my own attention is drawn from the person talking to you.
Person B: Oh really?
Person A (Implication): Yeah, I don’t know if you intend this, but I feel like that action communicates that your conversation is more important than what we are meeting about.
In separating our observations from implications, we leave permission for us to be wrong about the person’s motives. But it also opens the door for us to give insight into what the person’s actions communicate, something most people aren’t aware of.
I feel that this separation is really important for people not to feel judged. And that it actually helps them be an observer of their own actions as well.
If they come into agreement with the implications you are bringing, you are in a great place. This is where you can give helpful suggestions and affirm who they are.
5. Continue with a Posture of Learning and Humility
We can never enter into correction with complete certitude.
We must always come to the conversation with humility, being open to the possibility that our observations or assumptions about that person are off.
I find it helpful to ask clarifying questions to better understand why people do or did what they did. If people feel like you’re interested in learning about who they are, they’ll be even more convinced that you actually care about them.
While I’ve proposed very structured examples, we all know that there’s no set way that these conversations go. I feel that it is very Christ-like to maintain an attitude of learning and giving people the benefit of the doubt in their intentions without wavering in the power of our observations and implications to help a person a grow.
This humility does not apply just in the conversation but outside of it.
We shouldn’t be upset or judge people if our attempts are correcting people are not good. Perhaps they just really aren’t open to correction. But chances are, we just might not be good communicators and our attempt was not effective.
We should maintain a position of humility and continue to grow and be better in our skills to build people up.
In Conclusion, (AKA You Know You did it Well if…)
I hope that these tips are helpful. To be honest, these are not really original.
I think what inspires me in thinking about this is remembering the ways that Jesus corrects me in my character. That is the type of interaction we are striving to have with people.
Correcting people is not a pompous activity. If done well, people should experience the graciousness, tenderness, joy, and humility of Jesus through our words and the spirit we carry.
As I’ve tried to communicate, correcting people is about making people great. It’s not an act of selfishness or personal vendetta; great correction is about humility and lifting others up to be better people as Jesus would.
I know for a fact that Jesus is super kind, super wise, and super gracious when he is trying to grow me. I’m sure that you have experiences of that. I hope that, above listening to me, God’s character informs the way we help people grow. And so, in doing so, God’s presence is released, and we become his vessels.
People are eternally changed not by how smart or forceful we are. People are changed when they encounter the living God, who loves them and transforms them. And so we should always strive to be the fragrance of Jesus in correction.