Start with praise when the need arises to correct an issue

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” (John Wooden)

With this post we begin to look at the final section of Dale Carnegie’s 30 Human Relations Principles, as written in How to Win Friends and Influence People. These last 9 principles fall under the sub heading of Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.

The truth is that if we are engaged in the business of leading others, at some point we are going to have to correct mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes will be small, and easy to address. Other times they will be quite large and harder to correct. These last 9 principles will help guide us through as we will help people change in such a way that they will not resent us or be offended.

John Wooden was the basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins. Under his guidance, some of the greatest records in his sport we amassed. More importantly, the boys who entered UCLA to play for Coach Wooden grew into men who became contributors to all walks of life, not just basketball players. Long after the end of his days coaching on the hard wood, his wisdom was sought to help shape the minds of men and women looking to become leaders in their own right.

With the quote above, Wooden lets us know that we are all going to make mistakes, as long as we are trying to do something. It is only when we are idle that we will be mistake free – if you are willing to ignore the mistake of wasting away your time being idle.

When it comes to correcting mistakes or addressing concerns with someone, this set of principles starts with what might be the most difficult. Recall that when we were learning to Be a Friendlier Person, we were reminded not to criticize, condemn or complain; when we were trying to Win People to Our Way of Thinking, we were first reminded not to argue. Both of those were principles that took us away from where our instincts might lie. For this set, we are again taken away from where momentum might carry us.

In this set of principles we are first reminded to Begin with praise and honest appreciation. “But wait,” you may say, “I am looking to correct something. Why would I start with praise?” There are several reasons why you want to start here.

First, starting with praise and appreciation opens the person up to you, it allows them to relax a bit because they know that you appreciate their work.

Second, once relaxed, it keeps their spirit engaged, and they will be more likely to want to address the concern.

Third, the fact is that most of the people you work with and lead, have much more that is praiseworthy than what needs to be addressed. Acknowledging this up front helps you remember to value this member of the team.

A few words of caution. As always, you must make sure that the praise and appreciation you are giving is sincere and heartfelt. If you don’t really mean it, don’t say it. Your words will ring hollow to the recipient. Also, if the only time you praise a person is when you are about to correct them, then you will be conditioning them to hate praise. Make sure that praise and appreciation is a constant part of your dealings with them.

One other thing I have found to be of value, the praise you are giving should be related to their job. Also, it should be related, at least in some way, to the part of the job you are addressing. Mr. Carnegie cites an example where President Coolidge praised a secretary for the dress she was wearing, then asked her to be more careful with her punctuation. While this fits the formula, it again rings hollow for me.

We know that as we lead productive teams there are going to be times when we need to address problems, and mistakes. When those times come, let’s remember to…

Principle 22 – Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

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