The Right Response to a correction is called Repentance. It’s a change of direction, not just an emotional thing. (And it’s so important, I’ve apparently blogged it twice, thirteen months apart. Whoops!)
But like many things, there are few ways to get it right, but more ways to get it wrong. Here are some of the wrongs responses to correction. I’ve been guilty of many of them.
- The Misdirection: When this person gets corrected, they can’t stand the pain so they redirect the focus on something else. I once corrected a staff member about an attitude problem. And instead of the ten minutes I thought it would take, it lasted more than an hour as we talked about her family issues, her love life, and the problems of another staff member. And the attitude problem remained unchanged.
- The Countersuit: This is more aggressive than misdirection. They aren’t firing flares to distract you. It’s a retaliation. “You talk like you’re so perfect! And what about all of your sins?!” Like cornered animals, these people lash out because they see correction as an attack.
- The Offended: This response is connected to the Countersuit. The wrong response here is they’re mad. They resent you for bringing the correction. They might fixate on things like the way you talked with them, tone of voice, etc. Anything else except the actual correction.
- The But I’m Not Offended: This is a more calm, but more underhanded form of offense. This person might look outwardly calm after the correction. But deep down, they’ve resolved to terminate or distance the relationship. When you try to reconcile, they’ll passive-aggressively insist, “But nothing’s between us. We’re fine.” Tagalog speakers have a beautiful word for this: plastic.
- The False Apology: I blogged about bad apologies in the past. But here’s one I heard that absolutely shocked me. It was from a man whose anger, pride, and isolation were ruining his career, relationships, and walk with God. When another friend of his and I talked with him, he said, ” I’m sorry you guys didn’t understand me.” It was obvious he had no intention of changing, only of ending the conversation. I said, “You’re about to drive off a cliff. We’re yelling at you to turn around. And your response is to roll down the window and shout ‘I’m sorry’ while going full speed ahead. We’re not the ones in danger here.”
- The Posse Seeker: Like the Offended, this person breaks relationship from those bringing correction and instead finds like-minded yes-men and yes-women who will not bring the oh-so-painful correction he gets from true friends. Just like the guy in this blog.
- The Conscientious Objector: They’ll hear the correction, say the necessary words to move it along, but in their hearts, remain convinced they were right. They’ll obey for show, but not when no one’s watching. Such responses never last. Why pretend to comply when you don’t really agree?
- The Tragedarian: An actor who specializes in tragic roles. This was me for so long. I’d get corrected and act convicted, but I’d take it too far. “Oh, I can’t believe I did such a horrible thing. I feel terrible. So so so terrible. I’m a rotten person. I don’t think you can ever trust me again. Not even that, I can’t trust myself.” It wasn’t until a good friend gave me a conversational slap on the face that I realized how unhelpful all of that maudlin self-pity was. I’ll blog about that conversation on Wednesday.
There are others you can think of, I’m sure. Like in any list like this, it’s easy to think of people we know who are like this. But let’s try to find ourselves in it first. What’s our tendency to respond when we are corrected?