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How To Handle Correction Without Being Defensive – A Love Story

“Judy” was a fun patient to see, always cheerful and friendly. So, it was obvious when her demeanor began to change. Her boss at work had been transferred out and a new person had stepped in. The new boss was as stern and critical as her old boss was sweet and easy-going, and Judy was clearly shaken by the change.

“She doesn’t like anything I do,” Judy grumbled one day. “She criticizes everything.” After asking a few questions, it was clear that Judy’s new boss had different standards of performance and a very different way of “motivating” people. Judy had to admit that the office ran more efficiently and she got more done under this new boss, and the new boss really was friendly and personable, but she was not used to be critiqued, at least not to this degree.

Most importantly, Judy was taking the criticism personally, even though it wasn’t meant to be personal.

I think this is a common misunderstanding, and it’s part of my 2016 statements, which we’ve been exploring since the beginning of the year.

If you’re just joining us, “Think Right Thursdays” are about mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and we’ve been focusing the last several weeks on being an emotionally healthy person.

At the end of last year, I was mapping out where I want to go in 2016, and I wrote down the following statements:

“Self esteem is the reflection of self judgement. One of the best ways to raise self esteem is to make truly loving choices that lead to increased strength of mind body spirit.

I must :

  • Accept that my all my choices are a reflection of what I truly love.
  • Acknowledge that love is the most creative force in the universe and use it wisely.
  • Choose to love myself more than external things.
  • Treat myself well. This will accelerate the growth of my self esteem.
  • Keep in mind that what I appreciate appreciates.

The more I believe in myself the more objectively I will be able to take the advice of authority figures.

When people are commenting on my results and say things like, ‘Wow! You have a lot of discipline,’ I will answer, ‘NO, I JUST MAKE LOVING CHOICES  FOR MYSELF.’ Reinforcing my positive behavior will help me grow even more in personal strength with mind body and spirit.”

Quick Review

In the first week, we looked at the phrase: “Self-esteem is the reflection of self-judgement.”

  • How do you view yourself? Do you like yourself, or do you wish you were somehow better?

That led us to the next phrase in Week 2: “One of the best ways to raise self-esteem is to make truly loving choices that lead to increased strength of mind, body, and spirit.”

  • Life and death are in the power of the tongue. You are constantly talking to yourself about yourself. Why not say good things?

Then we dug into the third statement: “I must accept that my all my choices are a reflection of what I truly love.”

  • No matter what you tell me with your words, how you spend your time, money, and energy is the true barometer of your values. Your choices tell you what you truly love.

Next, we looked at: “I must acknowledge that love is the most creative force in the universe and use it wisely.”

  • Love is a superpower. You have it. Use it.

After that, we took apart the statement: “I must choose to love myself more than external things.”

  • You have the right and the responsibility to prioritize your own well-being higher than the pursuit of trinkets, status, or fame.

Week #6 was a tough one for some folks: I must treat myself well. This will accelerate the growth of my self-esteem.”

  • Live your life like an important guest is coming – and that important guest is you.

And last week we learned about magnifying the good: I must keep in mind that what I appreciate appreciates.”

  • When you pay attention to the good in others and yourself, you get more of it.

So let’s spend this week with the next statement:“The more I believe in myself the more objectively I will be able to take the advice of authority figures.”

The Problem of Insubordination

I don’t know how many good people I’ve seen lose good jobs because they didn’t like the way their boss talked to them and they let it affect their performance. That’s so stupid. We live in a time where anyone who has a job should be grateful to have it, and work hard to keep it and do well at it.

I don’t know how many kids I’ve seen go completely off the rails because they didn’t honor their parents enough to heed their good advice. It’s a shame to watch. Your parents know more than you do; you should listen to them.

In these cases, it’s not about personalities, or even about abusive leadership.

It’s about ego.

“Ego” is the Latin word for “I,” but in the counselling realm, it’s used to describe the selfishness that is resident in our personailities. When we talk about someone with a big ego, it’s usually referring to someone who thinks too highly of himself, or thinks only about himself and his own desires and comfort. Ego never likes to be challenged, criticized, or corrected. Ego always has to be right, or have the final word on everything. Ego wants to believe that it is perfect, above reproach, or above criticism. Ego blames others and never accepts responsibilty for his own choices and consequences.

Where does ego come from?

Frankly, I believe that each one of us has selfishness in our nature, and the development of character is the process of replacing selfishness with love. Selfishness is the root of all sin. God’s nature is others-focus; the sin nature is self-focus. The opposite of love is not hate; it’s apathy born from self-interest.

Ego is not self-love, it’s self-worship, which is totally different. Even people who despise themselves are actually still focusing on themselves. Shyness and low self-esteem are just as much ego as narcissism. It’s focus on self, whether with a good opinion or a bad one.

Surprisingly, this focus on self is often rooted in shame. Yes, shame.

Someone made me feel bad about myself, so I put up a defensive wall to protect my heart from ever being ashamed like that again. This defensiveness can take many forms:

  • Hiding, or shyness.
  • Lying about yourself to make yourself look better.
  • Pretending to be something you’re not.
  • Blaming or making excuses for your mistakes or poor choices.
  • Withdrawal from personal relationships.
  • Boasting and bragging.
  • Vying for leadership in an unhealthy way.
  • Giving up.
  • False humility
  • And on and on and on.

Yes, but what does this have to do with insubordination?

When the boss comes to me and makes a suggestion to correct something I’m doing, it’s to steer my performance back on course, not to attack my character or make me feel bad. It’s job-related, not personal. It’s meant to help, not cut down.

But if I take it personally, I will lash out, cave in, or resent my boss, depending on my personality. All three are wrong. Passive-aggressive behavior, according to one definition, is “the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, stubbornness, sullen behavior, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.”

That is behavior that will get your fired, and it’s all rooted in ego, or selfishness. Stop it.

If my lousy attitude is rooted in ego, and my ego is rooted in shame, then it’s time to deal with the shame.

How To Root Out Shame

Shame is a deep and pervasive personal demon that often gets its foothold in our lives in early childhood. Something made me feel bad about myself as a child, and it took hold. Most of our parents did not have any training in developing a healthy self-esteem in children, so they didn’t know what to do.

By the way, I can assure you that giving out participation trophies to every kid that plays, instead of giving a trophy to the kids that won, will not build self-esteem. In fact, it takes all the motivation out of kids. There’s no need to put in extra effort to be the best because you get the rewarded the same, whether you work hard or not. That’s Marxism and it’s the end of productive society. (That rant is a side thought – I won’t charge you for that.)

My intent over these last several weeks is to give you the tools to root out shame. Genuine, health self-love (not self-worship) is life-affirming. It allows you to value yourself for who you are, the way you are. It gives you confidence and fills in the broken places in your heart that your ego is trying defend. Rather than protecting yourself with walls, you allow your heart to heal and stand strong on its own.

If you are confident in who you are, then you are free to accept suggestions from someone else on how to improve your performance. In fact, you are grateful for words of correction, because it is equipping you to be more successful. You’re not threatened by it, because you are comfortable with who you are. Healthy people can differentiate between who they are and what they do. You can accept correction for your actions because you are OK with who you are as a person. That’s emotional maturity.

How To Work With People In Authority

People in authority usually get that position because they know how to bring out the best in others. There are always exceptions, but promotion ultimately comes from God, and its based on your readiness to handle it. Even nasty people are just trying to get the job done, and if they see behaviors that are counter-productive, they have to address them.

OK, maybe your boss really is evil. Maybe. But, if that’s the case, then you should view that situation as a test to see how you handle yourself. It’s better to pass the test and move on than to keep taking the test over and over again. I promise you, if you will pass this test, you will be promoted. Either your boss will promote you, HER boss will promote you, or another company will promote you out. But you have to pass the charcter test. God is watching, and He arranges the promotions based on your character.

So, bearing that in mind, it behooves you to view correction as a key to your promotion. Accept it as a kind gesture to help you get to the next level, and not a personal attack, and you can leverage it to make yourself stronger. If you’re a sloppy, corner-cutting slack-off, and someone corrects you, then shape up. Don’t get offended. If you’re a hard worker and someone offers you a word to make your performance even better, thank them. It’s not about you; it’s about your performance. Don’t take it personally. View it objectively, like someone handed you a better tool to get the job done more efficiently. That takes all the personal offense out of the way.

Consider what the wisest man in history, King Solomon, had to say about correction:

  • Proverbs 9:8 – Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
  • Proverbs 13:18 – Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, But he who regards a rebuke will be honored.
  • Proverbs 15:31 – The ear that hears the rebukes of life Will abide among the wise.
  • Proverbs 15:32 – He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.
  • Proverbs 17:10 – Rebuke is more effective for a wise man Than a hundred blows on a fool.
  • Proverbs 19:25 – Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary; Rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge.

In all of these, the message is the same: Wise (or mature) people appreciate words of correction and it makes them better. Fools (or immature people) don’t listen to correction and go off to their own destructions. Which do you want: poverty and shame, or blessing and wisdom?

Duh.

They key is being secure enough in who you are to handle it. Go back and read the other articles in this series to find the keys to personal confidence and security. Honetly, if you can’t handle correction at this level, you will never be promoted to higher levels, and you shouldn’t, because you wouldn’t be able to handle it. The stakes get higher as your position gets higher, and your personal character determines whether you succeed or fail at each level.

Let’s go be the best we can be.

I have people in my life that I have given permission to correct me when they see me going off track: my pastor, friends, colleagues, and other businesspeople who are way smarter than me. I appreciate their input, because I know it’s meant to make me better, even if I don’t like hearing it at the time.

If this is an area where you’ve had to grow, and you’ve succeeded, then please take a few minutes to share your story in the comments on Facebook. None of us is perfect, we’ve all had to overcome the junk in our own lives. We’re all works in progress. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs to take the next step. And please take a few seconds to share this post. There’s a lot of people out there who really need to hear this so they can take the next step in their career, and they don’t even know it. Let’s start the discussion.

I’ll see you here next week for “Move Right Monday.”

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING; at the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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