Call Attention to People’s Mistakes Indirectly

January 25, 2012

No one likes having a spotlight shone on their mistakes. But there are ways to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly, without causing them any embarrassment.

In his book, “How to Develop Self Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking,” Dale Carnegie tells the story of Lyman Abbott, who was invited to speak in the pulpit left silent after the death of Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, abolitionist, and speaker in the mid to late 19th century.

Eager to do his best, Abbott wrote, rewrote, and meticulously polished his sermon. Then he read it to his wife. It was poor—as most written speeches are. She might have said, if she had had less judgment, “Lyman, that is terrible. That’ll never do. You’ll put people to sleep. It reads like an encyclopedia. You ought to know better than that after all the years you have been preaching. For heaven’s sake, why don’t you talk like a human being? Why don’t you act natural? You’ll disgrace yourself if you ever read that stuff.”

If Abbott’s wife had reacted that way she might’ve destroyed his self-confidence and embarrassed him to the point where he may have declined on giving the sermon. But instead, she merely remarked that it would make an excellent article for the North American Review. In other words, she praised it and at the same time subtly suggested that it wouldn’t do as a speech. Lyman Abbott saw the point, tore up his carefully prepared manuscript, and preached without even using notes.

Remember, an effective way to correct others’ mistakes is to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. Here’s an example of this important principle in action from your friends at Dale Carnegie Training of North Dakota:


This post is brought to you by the good folks at Dale Carnegie Training of North Dakota, providers of professional development and management development courses and information in North Dakota. We would love to connect with you on Facebook.

Photo credit: Ambro


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