The department manager was discussing with one of his staff members the need to change a document she had written in his name. He told her the article was not written in his style, did not include the information he wanted and should not be published. She argued that the article was hers to write and that she felt it was a good piece.
He became agitated and told her to change it anyway. She refused. He was insistent. She was obstinate, and she finally stomped out of the room.
Then the worst possible outcome of all happened. Nothing was done to resolve the issue. The poorly written article was published and embarrassed the entire organization and everyone in it. Her insubordinate attitude affected her coworkers and made working with her very difficult. The manager ended up losing vital respect from his employees.
A tool for growth
Why is correction so difficult to take? Why is it so important? What are some vital keys to using correction as an effective and valuable tool for growth?
Human beings can be quite sensitive. When corrected, we often attach motives to the one giving the correction—motives that may or may not be there. Yet every one of us needs to grow in social and professional skills and in our character. When left to ourselves, we don't often see the need to make real and lasting changes.
Most people will have others over them in authority at various times in their lives. This can be a good time for growth. How we react when corrected can make the difference between success and failure, both professionally and socially.
Correction can be hard to take. But it can also be hard to give! Friendships and working relationships have been destroyed by the lack of tact and wisdom when either giving or receiving needed pointers. We may have no control over how correction is delivered, but we can choose how to take it.
Pitfalls to avoid
So what are some of the pitfalls to avoid when we are being corrected?
Sometimes we allow our feelings to be hurt. Somebody is telling us that something about us is wrong. We take it as a personal affront, and it cuts to the core. We become embarrassed.
What happens next? We usually react emotionally. Maybe we show it outwardly, or perhaps we harbor our hurt and nurture it for a while until it comes into full bloom and manifests itself later on. Instead of making the changes and moving on, we all too easily wallow in self-pity and hurt feelings and shrink from positive action.
Our pride might lead us to assume we are being accused of something that isn't true. Maybe we really aren't wrong. Maybe we're just being misunderstood.
But what is the result of this thinking? We don't change anything. We may convince ourselves that we have been misunderstood. We continue on our way without making the needed course correction (the Titanic comes to mind here!).
Hurt feelings sometimes cause us to assign motives to the person delivering the correction. "Maybe he doesn't like me," we rationalize. Or "Maybe she is jealous of me and trying to make me look bad."
This type of defensiveness usually brings very bad results. Resentment, distrust and anger grow, and we can start looking for ways to protect our own self-interest.
We go on the offensive. We talk to others about how we have been wronged and victimized and look for ways to get back at our "accuser." We think of ourselves as martyrs. We affect the morale of all those around us with our newly created scenario of injustice, and others become suspicious and insecure. This is a divisive and destructive path that spirals downward and sucks others around us into the vortex. Everybody loses.
What is the right course?
So, what is the appropriate course of action to take when you find yourself being corrected? It may not be easy or comfortable for any of us, but there is a process that can produce positive results and growth.
• First of all, try to listen with your mind instead of your emotions. Somebody is trying to tell me that he sees something in me or my actions that is harmful, either to me or to others around me. Maybe it isn't totally accurate, but this person has taken the time to tell me that this is how I appear to him.
• Analyze what is being said. Could it possibly be true? What are the facts being presented? What can I do to improve what I am doing and how I am coming across? When the point being made is accurate, even to a small degree, if we are honest with ourselves we usually can see that yes, there is something to what is being pointed out to us.
• Consider your own motives. Do I want to become a better person, coworker, supervisor? Can I see beyond the personality of the person correcting me enough to take needed correction with dignity and grace, and make the necessary changes without feeling embarrassed?
Do I have the character to admit that I am wrong? Often when we impute motives to someone, we are revealing something about our own way of thinking—perhaps, without recognizing it, even putting our motives behind the words and actions of other people.
• Try to see this as an opportunity for growth. No matter who we are or what our responsibilities may be, there is always something we can do better. Having that pointed out to us, and taking it to heart, can make us even better at what we do and increase the respect others have for us.
• Look for ways to improve on your own. Most of us know when we have an attitude or approach that isn't working. Maybe others have become upset with us, or perhaps we can sense that things just aren't going right. How much better it is for us to recognize this fact and make the change on our own, without somebody having to come and hit us over the head with the obvious!
Sometimes you can directly ask those around you how you are coming across—especially if you hold a supervisory position. I've found that it makes working relationships much easier if I'm up-front and honest with those I supervise.
Tell them that you want them to succeed, and that you know one of the primary steps for success is for open and honest conversation (not to be confused with criticism). Ask them to be sure to let you know if something you are saying or doing makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs well, or if they have ideas that might make for even greater success on the job. Sometimes the results are humbling!
• Finally, be humble enough to make the right changes. Nobody knows everything. We may be great at 99 percent of everything we do, but there's still room to improve on that one percent we may not even clearly see.
The rest of the story
Oh, and about the staff member who wouldn't take the correction? Although I've since left the company due to a family move, the last I knew she was still there—still doing things her own way, still refusing to take correction. She had earned little respect from her coworkers. She hadn't grown in her job skills or her character.
And the manager? He missed a golden opportunity to help someone else overcome and to improve the working conditions and morale within the corporation. And, as noted earlier, he ended up also losing respect. GN