How to Correct Someone and Win Their Respect

Correcting someone is one of the most difficult and uncomfortable actions you can take. There is always anxiety that the person you’re correcting will feel beat up or over react. There is a way to correct someone, see improved behavior, and even win their respect.

There are several reasons why people are uncomfortable with or even avoid correction. The notion of correction being a negative experience probably comes from negative experience as a kid with our parents or maybe a boss at one of our first jobs. Wherever it comes from, you have probably experienced more bad corrections than good ones.

Another reason simply comes from the current culture that does not advocate for confrontation. Instead, you and I are told to “just go with the flow” and let people do what they’re going to do. While you should not be in everyone’s face about every issue you have about their behavior, you should be able to speak into the lives of the people around you — especially if their words or behavior are inappropriate or they’re under-performing.

Yet another reason is that correction has the stigma of telling someone “you’re wrong.” Correction is not about who the person is, but about what or how they are doing something. Most people, at their core, want to do and say the right thing. However, when they don’t, it your job as the leader to step in and teach them what is correct and help them do it.

So, I have found 3 rules to follow when correcting someone that will produce positive results including increased respect and influence for yourself. These rules apply whether you’re a manager, supervisor, or even a parent.

1. Always correct privately.

It is never beneficial to correct someone in front of their peers. It will do irreparable damage to your team-member’s motivation and respect for you. The loss of influence will hurt you with more than just that one person.

The person’s peers that witness the public correcting will also lose some measure of respect for you, because they identify more with their fellow team-member and are likely to take their side. Publicly correcting someone is also a very clear sign that you are an insecure leader.

2. Sandwich the correction.

This is a foundational leadership practice, but you can never have too much of the fundamentals. Whatever the correction is, it should be “sandwiched” between 2 positive points about the person. This will reduce the likelihood of the person receiving the correction to receive it as an attack on who they are as apposed to what they’re doing.

The first statement should speak to something positive they done recently followed by a statement about their value to the company or you personally. The second statement addresses the incorrect behavior, why it is incorrect, what/how they should be doing it, and why they should do it that way. The final statement should reaffirm their value and share the vision of what the company and/or you see if the behavior is corrected.

I want to quickly address what correction is and isn’t. Correction is not about opinion. It is about facts. You have to be able to show the person being corrected what the standard/expectation is (i.e. office behavior clause in contract, sales goals, house rules) and how and when they did not meet that standard or expectation. There has to be clarity around this situation or it will not improve.

3. Praise corrected behavior publicly.

This rule is vital if you want the behavior corrected for the long term. Why? Because most people will attempt to do what has just been asked of them. However, if they do not feel like their efforts are being rewarded, you will likely see their behavior go back to what is was before they were corrected and even become worse because they feel that their efforts to improve do not matter to you and/or the company.

Correction can be a difficult and scary task, but it doesn’t have to be. It should be viewed as an opportunity to help the person, improve your team, and show that you care what they do.

Question: What has been your experience, good or bad, with being corrected? How would you have wanted it done differently? Leave your response in the comments section below.

This is a guest post by Kenny Lange. He is a blogger, speaker, and coach. He helps leaders and those who want to lead increase their influence so that they can lead high impact, purposeful and passion filled lives. You can find Kenny at KennyLange.com.

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  • Rita Jaskolla

    I think the main challenge is the “ad hoc” situation when it comes to the need of correcting someone (of the team), worst case in front of everyone, but that´s where most of these situations appear. To correct s.o. in front of everyone is a quick re-action via communication. If leaders (would) “know” what to say in first place it would support the fact that they have time to correct the person afterwards. Communication skills in terms of having a few good “lines” or the right “text” available is the clue, I guess.

    • Rita, if I understand you correctly, are you saying that the leader should have their presentation planned so that time is used efficiently which would allow the leader to address any issues after the meeting?

      • Rita Jaskolla

        Kenny, I didn´t really think of such an ad hoc situation during a meeting, but rather during the day in the office where people rather tend to “mis-behave” or turn away from standards than in a meeting. If a leader needs to correct s.o. in a meeting than it´s mainly about facts, I guess. And talking about in-correct facts in front of the team is not as damaging as talking about a true mistake or mis-behaviour. I think it´s important for a leader to mention that there is an issue to talk about later and quickly point to the info-“gap” but never personalize it.

        • I like the tactic of mentioning that the issue will be addressed, but that now isn’t the proper time. I’ve used that myself during my time working with youth in churches and club soccer and it seemed to be more successful than a quick, sarcastic remark to “put them in their place”.

          • Rita Jaskolla

            Good point, because this way Kenny you indirectly teach (taught) youth how to do it “right” – which is important to develop into an adult. People can only give from their own in-put (source) once they´re challenged ad hoc! And whatever worked best in the past comes out (of their mouth) first.

  • Hey Joe, thanks for sharing this post. I recently finished reading David Rock’s “Your Brain at Work.” He shared some excellent insights on feedback that I thought you’d appreciate: http://paulsohn.org/why-constructive-feedback-never-works-and-a-better-approach/

  • People are naturally self protective. Therefore any meeting in the office is seen as a threat, and most quickly start looking for excuses for their behavior, or attempt to divert attention from them and to someone else’s behavior. No matter how much we try to sugar coat the real reason for the conversation, most will view it as negative. Moreover, I have found that using the positive sandwich often confused them. But again, they were the ones who didn’t welcome the correction and just wanted to get out of the office; usually to get the team stired up, but that is another issue for another time.
    Personally, I welcome correction, I view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. The wise person receives correction, and the fool refuses it (Proverbs 12:1,13:18).

    • Thank you for your comment, Matt!

      I wholeheartedly agree with you about people being self protective. No one likes to get hurt and it seems our culture encourages people to take things more personally than we ought.

      In regards to the “sandwich”, I can easily see how people get confused. I’ve gone back and forth on whether its effective, but, as of this moment, I believe that people need to have their value reinforced during correction. Much like when I correct one of my 3 kids, I want to correct the action but let them know that my love and their value haven’t diminished. (Joe, I would welcome your input on the “sandwich”)

      The ones that do not welcome correction and want to leave the office quickly (especially to stir up the team), are probably people that shouldn’t be on the team and I would look for a way to “help” them find a brighter future elsewhere.

      Love the scripture! I wish more people had your attitude towards receiving correction!

      • Kenny,
        Thanks for the feedback, and encouragement. I think I went about things the wrong way in handling the negative responses to corrective action. I thought my team would respond differently. Lesson learned.
        I totally get the correlation between correcting children and the sandwich method. We always have to follow up discipline with reassurance of support, and love. Finding a way to communicate the same message on a adult level, without opening a door for miscommunication, is tricky, but if done right, the positive secondary effects will put all negativity to bed.
        Thanks again!

  • Pioneer Outfitters

    Kenny!
    Thank you for such simple to follow steps for corrections, because yes, we all have to do this and yes, it is the least favorite part of any day and any job or calling.
    My own experience is one that is burned into my mind, and I am much afraid, onto my soul. I was the one the the position of correcting and really all that needs to be shared is that I lost total and complete control over my own control, emotions and anger. It did not end well, nor will I ever forget it. I could not have possibly done any part of this correction more wrong, no matter how horrendous the fault may have been. This is something I have thought of and over many, many times over the years and the end conclusions are always the same: I was wrong.
    Sometimes, really horrid and obnoxiously dangerous situations are caused that have to be dealt with by whomever is in charge. BUT. That person in charge- must be right. In every way, you must be right.

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed the post! I want to commend you on owning your mistakes with correction. At the same time, I want to encourage you to let go of past failures and move forward with knowledge from your experience that will allow you to do it better in the future. That mistake may have been what you did, but it is not who you are.

      I would agree with you that whomever is leading should not shrink back from correcting incorrect or dangerous behavior. However, I would add that it shouldn’t be about that leader being right. Instead, the correction should focus on bringing that person into alignment with the team and getting the best out of them. Pastor Perry Noble says, “leaders have to be more concerned with who their team members are becoming than what they are doing”, and I couldn’t agree more.

      • Pioneer Outfitters

        Kenny, I really like that, “leaders have to be more concerned with who their team members are becoming than what they are doing”
        ~ Thank you.