A Simple Difference in Encouragement Versus Correction

Have you ever had to delicately handle criticism with another person and you blew it up to pieces? Wow, too many times for me. And there are a number of reasons for it…I only hear one side of the story, I come to erroneous conclusions, or I allow my emotions to get too deeply involved.


On the flip side, I have had opportunities to encourage another and failed to do it in a way that was actually…well…encouraging. And there were varying reasons for not doing it well: a lack of gratitude for what the person did or turning performance into expectations. You know, the “Well that is part of their job! They should do it well!”

A powerful technique

I was listening to a podcast on church volunteers last week, and the executive pastor being interviewed made a very quick statement but one that I have listened to over and over. It was succinct, simple, but yet profound.

Anytime you’re encouraging people, you use statements, but anytime you’re correcting people, you ask questions.

Give that one some thought. It is a powerful technique.

I would say that in my experience of leadership and in the observation of others, the two areas of encouragement and correction are easily abused or misunderstood. And it is ironic to me that if leadership is to be about shaping others to help them be successful, that we use poor methods when either encouraging or correcting.

One of the disasters as I think through this is that we can easily get the above technique reversed, and when it gets reversed, it does damage to those you are supposed to be loving.

And what do I mean by reversed? Simply put – that we start using questions when we should be using statements, and begin using statements when a question is more appropriate.

Let’s start with encouragement

If intentionally encouraging others is not on your radar as a leader, an encouragement opportunity can easily turn into a discouragement reality.

For example, I desire for those I lead to show independent thinking and exhibit an ability to problem solve. But yet when they try to think outside the box, I immediately go to a question.

“Why did you think that would work?”

Or “Is that what you thought I meant? Really?”

See, I reversed the technique. I should be using statements instead.

“I love the way you tried to problem solve that. And I think it is going to work great. Here is one other element I would like for you to consider. Good work.”

Or “Walk me through that process again. I am impressed with the unique angle you are taking, but not quite sure I am on the same page.”

One set of statements snuffs out any hope of an inner spark. The other set is sincere, honest, and continues to lead forward instead of bringing the conversation or thought process to a grinding halt.

And on the flip side…correction 

So let’s now consider the other side of this reversal. What happens when I primarily use statements instead of questions when a correction needs to happen?

Here are some examples…

“You did not get this done because it is just not important enough to you.”

Or “You have been a little moody lately. I need for you to put the attitude away and step it up.”

Again, I reversed the technique. Statements instead of questions. What could have been said?

“Hey, would you allow me to make an observation? I know we had talked about a due date for this project, but it seems like it is not moving forward. I know you have been busy. Or perhaps I was not clear. Can you walk me through your thought process? Did you feel as if there was something more pressing for which I can offer guidance? How can I assist to help get this project back on track?”

Or “I have noticed that things have seemed a little tense lately. I just wanted to check in. I want you to know that I want to be of help to you. Is there something going on that I could assist with? Are you feeling any outside pressures at all? How can I help?”

In both situations, by using questions, I am giving the benefit of the doubt to the other person. I am not assuming evil motive or intent. We are encouraged in this through I Corinthians 13:7…

Love bears all things, believes all things…

One other note: using questions is most likely going to take more time and effort in a correction process.

But it is the way of love and is also showing how to love your neighbor as Jesus commended.

In a society and culture that emphasizes productivity and a “get’r done” mentality, we often abandon the powerful techniques of using statements and questions in their proper place.

So to recap: 1) primarily use statements when you want to encourage another. Notice what another has done and put it into factual terms, and 2) primarily use questions when another needs correction of some type. By assuming the best, there is an allowance that you may not understand all of the facts, that there may be another side to the story, or there may be an issue or oversight on your end.

If we are just looking at the end goal and not the person in front of it, we are liable to misuse two dynamic tools and stifle others instead of grow them. Maybe give it some thought this week how you use statements and questions with others.

What do you think? Any thoughts to add to the conversation?

If you know someone who would be helped by reading this, please share it using one of the social media links below. Thank you for doing this! 


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