No One Wants to Hear They’re Wrong

[ 20 ] Comments

by MSKeller

I was having a conversation this morning with my son, and he said something that struck me hard.  We were talking about helping someone do things a bit differently for their own good, and he said, “No one wants to hear they are doing it wrong.” People do indeed close down and move into defense mode when they are criticized. How do we point out a problem, if that very act will simply cause them to dig in deeper?

It seems like there is a lot of rib-poking during conferences where wives and husbands, parents and even children and siblings seem to hope that they are listening so that they will change. Sometimes we do this because it’s easier than facing our own issues, which can be hard to see clearly in ourselves. We too are part of the group that doesn’t like to hear that we are doing it wrong.

How do we apply teachings to ourselves, to see where we need to change without being nagged by thoughts of failure?

What do we do when we want to help someone else overcome a problem?


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About MSKeller

Marsha Steed Keller (Th'Muse) "When I get a little money, I buy books, if there is any left, I buy food and clothes." --Desiderius Erasmus. This defines a part of Marsha's psychology and intent fairly well. When she was a child she says that people asked what super-power she would desire. She replied, "To know what is true, always." It hasn't changed much since then. Marsha cares more about intent than result; more about understanding than agreement and more about good questions than finding all the answers. She defines her best blessings as people (Family and Friends), ideas and beauty. She is highly visual, teaches voice and piano and enjoys her Life/Relationship coaching immensely. She has a BA in Psychology and an AA in Ballroom Dance. Life is an adventure to be lived in the moment and shared with the world. She considers being asked to write with this amazing group a high honor.

20 Responses to No One Wants to Hear They’re Wrong

  1. Bonnie says:

    Our discipleship, our covenant to bear one another’s burdens, runs up against our respect for free agency everywhere we turn. On the one hand, if we see a need, we have an obligation to share help. On the other hand, that help offered is always run through our filter of the world, how it is, and how it should be. We are doomed to fail at both in our balancing act. That failure is key to me. It’s why we must access the atonement so frequently. We will never be able to see another’s life clearly, and we will never ultimately succeed at helping another, and we will never succeed at perfectly respecting his or her agency unless we access the grace of God in the process, acknowledging at every point our own inadequacy. I do think we will see miracles happen then. Easy to acknowledge with words, hard to put into daily practice. We will likely work at this all our lives to master it, but I think it’s worth working on.

    • MSKeller says:

      ” We will likely work at this all our lives to master it, but I think it’s worth working on.” – INdeed.

      What are some of the words you’ve found that work the best? An invitation? A question, “Can we talk about something. . ” What works well in your experience?

    • jendoop says:

      It’s interesting that you bring up agency Bonnie. My FIL had a calling where he spoke frequently in stake conferences. I asked him what that is like he said that it is tricky. He was counseled to never be so bold in his instructions/council that it would remove the agency of the listener. I’ve thought about that a lot since then. About how it relates to guilt (I’ve come to the conclusion that guilt is too powerful a tool to be used by me) and my role in counseling others, either as a leader, parent or friend.

      I find that it is best to use as soft a touch as possible, gradually increasing specificity if the issue is crucial. For instance, a Spirit filled FHE based on Elder Bednar’s talk about technology and fidelity presented to the entire family later allowed my husband and I to work out better parameters for using electronics which improved our marriage. The approach really is everything.

    • M.J. Mills says:

      This is so true and well said too . When I hear a General Authority speak nowadays- I do not hear , as in a recent talk :”Go to bed early ” . Instead a scripture is mentioned ,then the Spirit reminds me that it would be a good idea to change a habit and I just might decide to do it.
      This is the only way we learn , when we want to , when we open our heart and are touched , then we might want to apply the lesson learned .

      • MSKeller says:

        I think that is totally the point! Agency. When we are shared the truth with, then decide to change ourselves, it is more long-lasting and powerful. “Want to” just as you said.

  2. Brenda says:

    I’ve been involved in both giving and receiving “rib-poking” during conference and church services. In most cases the person on the receiving end is already aware of their weakness. It is a sore spot as all weaknesses tend to be. Having a loved or friend point it out to you is just a stab in an already painful place hence the defensive reaction. As the one who wants to help we have to be careful that we aren’t just really passing judgement on someone. Letting them know of our disapproval as a way to guilt them into changing. If we see a problem prayer and humility are the only way to proceed. We might be able to share an experience that helped us with the same problem or counsel heard about the issue. Whatever it is it should be led by the Spirit and we should also accept that sometimes the Spirit may just tell us it’s none of our business.

    • MSKeller says:

      ” As the one who wants to help we have to be careful that we aren’t just really passing judgement on someone. ” – I think that is part of my concern. Is it that we are trying to ‘help’ or that we are saying, ‘you are doing this wrong, you need to do it this way. . .’ Tricky business.

      Does anyone really ever change with the motivation of ‘should’? Real change? Maybe for awhile, but it doesn’t last. My question is how do we really offer some help, without triggering the defensive mechanisms? Is it even possible?

      Sometimes it may just be something that we need to leave to the Lord’s time isn’t it? So how do we ‘endure’ and make that work in the meantime?

  3. Loralyn Hansen says:

    When I first read this, I thought of individuals talking to each other, ie, a Mom to a daughter. In that case, things need to be handled careful, filled with what is going right first, then approach with “what do YOU think improvements can be?” or something of that sort… I have found that that has usually been better received in my experience.

    As far as a general “rib poking” I don’t take offense to things that are said over the pulpit. I look at it as a general address and I take in what I feel is necessary for me at the time.

    • MSKeller says:

      I think you are right, inviting the person helps, but often even then often the improver forgets that the improved doesn’t really want to hear they are wrong, and often don’t have a clue how to fix things (or they would). It is definitely tricky landscape.

      As for Rib-poking, I was more thinking about two people sitting and listening to a talk or whatever, and one seems to think that the other really NEEDS this information, and thus literally (or figuratively with a comment or an expression ) pokes the other with a sort of ‘Hey, see, I’m right, isn’t this what I was saying? Or. . . are you listening?”

      I’ve seen it plenty, done it some and received it as well. Sometimes in humor, sometimes in not-so-funny intended humor. I’m not sure if it ever helped, but then I’m pretty good at self-poking.

  4. Paul says:

    Well there are twin principles involved here. One is stewardship and the other is control. I will never have control over another person. It is simply not possible for me to do that in any emotionally healthy way.

    I may have a stewardship (as a father over my children, for instance). In that case, I have little choice by to follow the teachings of D&C 121 — gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, and so on.

    If I am listening to conference hoping that someone else hears the message then I’ve likely missed the one I’m to hear.

    • MSKeller says:

      I think stewardship is a huge one Paul. I think when I most dislike being corrected, is when the person doing the correcting is (felt by me of course) to be overstepping their stewardship relationship with me.

      “If I am listening to conference hoping that someone else hears the message then I’ve likely missed the one I’m to hear.” – Isn’t that the rub! Perhaps the answer to this question is “Work on yourself and leave other’s to the Lord”? Of course where it is under our stewardship is where I think I am most baffled. We are supposed to ‘reprove betimes with sharpness’ (Which I interpret to be directness, or preciseness, not pointed or stinging), and yet even the stewardship of a parent changes as the child ages. It is all tricky.

  5. misssrobin says:

    I feel very strongly about this. I will try not to offend, but I must be direct.

    I believe any time we find ourselves having the answers to another person’s problems, we are in a danger zone — even with our own children. When we think we know how they should live in order to be happy, what they should change, we are almost always standing in judgment. Even when we have stewardship over them. Stewardship is a watchcare, not control or power. We are told to “reprove betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” People too often forget the last part. Those we stand in stewardship over need our love and understanding. There are very few people put in a position of judgment by the Lord (bishops and stake presidents mainly). Most people take that role upon themselves.

    We are not seeing things as the Lord would when we are looking for what’s wrong or what’s bothering us or what doesn’t live up to what we think it should be. The Lord didn’t go around during his time on earth telling people what they were doing wrong (unless absolutely necessary). The Lord loved people and served them and was ready to help when people came to Him wanting to be healed (physically, emotionally, or spiritually). I believe people know when something is amiss in their lives. They have to choose to change it. Once that choice is made, if we have fostered a relationship of love and kindness and sincere caring, we may be the person they ask for help. Until then, we should pray for them. We should pray to ask God how we can help. Not how we can help fix them or change them, but how we can help them. Because, truthfully, we don’t know what would be best for them. We don’t have a vision of their lives in the future or all they can be or what they are meant to be. Only He does. He loves them and worries about them and knows them better than we ever will. He is our best resource.

    My five children are 14-22. There are times when I need to speak with them about a particular behavior that is destructive to themselves or harmful to others. Even then, I must remember their agency. I draw proper boundaries to protect others, but my children choose for themselves.

    Even though it’s a sometimes tired old primary saying, “What would Jesus do?” works here. I believe most of the time He would love people as they find their own way and answer questions when they ask in sincerity. People grow when they solve problems for themselves. They need to know we believe in their abilities to do so and they need to have a safe environment to try and to fail. Fixing problems for other people that they can and should fix for themselves is never our job. That’s not how the gospel works.

    • MSKeller says:

      You seem to have the stewardship thing down Miss Robin. I can’t say that I disagree, only that I’m not always as good at it as I would like.

      I’ve learned that being silent more often than not, things work out on their own. I expect that tells me that the Lord is more in charge than I think, and better at doing things than I am most times.

      There are however times when someone’s actions affects others in the household negatively and that isn’t fair for anyone. John Lund has some great helps on stewardship on ‘how to raise a porcupine’ talk.

      “Fixing problems for other people that they can and should fix for themselves is never our job. ” – Hard lesson to keep learning, this I know! Thank you for your thoughts.

  6. RogerDodger says:

    When I was a member of a Branch Presidency at the Provo MTC some years ago, we taught our Elders and Sisters the value of having regular “Companionship Inventories.” The purpose of these inventories was to allow each in the companionship to kindly and gently relay a few of those things that were annoying or of concern to the other. The desired outcome was to allow personal communication so large build-ups of antagonism and irritation were avoided. So instead of blurting out one day, “Elder, stop stop stop chewing your food with your mouth open. It’s SICKENING!”, one might, as part of the Inventory, say “Elder, we have a funny quirk in our family and that is that we try to chew food with our mouth closed. It’s kind of become one of our traditions. Would you mind thinking about that the next time we’re eating together?” And then that Elder hears something from his companion about improvements or changes HE can work on.
    It’s amazing how well those short periods of communication work to improve the spirit in a companionship.
    The use of companionship inventories can work so well between spouses, and even between parent and child. It might be startling to hear what a ten-year old has on his list for YOU as the parent to hear and improve upon. Even more startling, brethren, may be the short list your wife has thoughtfully developed for you. The success of the companionship inventory is tied to several preconceived agreements: one, that each will attempt in a concerted manner to graciously make changes suggested and that two, those perssonal attributes or failings known to be most hurtful and destructive for the companion, will not be on the list.

    • jendoop says:

      Roger, I’m sorry to say that I’ve heard both from missionaries who did this, and from professional mental health workers that this kind of regular gripe session can cause quite a bit of problems. People aren’t able to change just because someone told them that they should. This can cause hard feelings in relationships when a partner asks the other to change, but for some reason that person can’t change. It can be seen as a snub, personal slight or even passive aggressive behavior.

      Another problem is the regular nature of the complaints. If you’re preparing for a “companionship inventory” with your spouse there’s a tendency to look for mistakes and errors just so you arrive at the meeting with equal ammunition. Instead, I believe we should be looking for the best in our partners and doing our best to ignore their faults or little annoyances because they put up with plenty of ours.

      I believe that complaining and nagging are not going to truly help the other person progress, but it will do a lot of damage to a relationship. From President Hinckley: “[In the beginning of marriage]All is bliss—that is, for a season. Then little inconsequential activities lead to criticism. Little flaws are magnified into great torrents of faultfinding; they fall apart, they separate, and then with rancor and bitterness they divorce.”

      Now, please don’t take this to mean that we shouldn’t seek to remedy serious situations in our marriages and families, we definitely should. But my feeling is, taken from personal experience, that a regular “companionship inventories” are not productive. Much more productive are regular date nights and opportunities to enjoy each other’s company so that the positives in a relationship so far outweigh the little annoyances that they disappear.

    • MSKeller says:

      I can see both sides here Roger and Jen. While it is helpful to have a time that we can actually both agree to share in a safe environment and a mutually accepted time without rancor or the poisonous emotion that often comes with an over-boiled gripe, as Jen said, it can also tend to point us to notice and “keep track” of those irritating but ultimately not-important-eternally personality quirks.

      Perhaps it would be helpful to have a time where every six months or so, you have a humorous ‘sharing’, that will allow for those little items to be discussed. Not so much ‘You need to change this’ – but moreso and “I” statement of – “You know, I understand that this is my issue, but I just want you to be aware that it really makes me nuts when you put your dirty laundry NEAR the basket instead of inside of it. It makes me feel like you don’t value my effort that will have to be made when I do the laundry”. No expectations for change, just an opportunity to share your feelings and needs. Then if the other person can, they will, if they can’t, well then you are in charge of your own issue.

  7. templegoer says:

    I feel that letting off steam on an ongoing basis leads to less anxiety and anger in a relationship. Of course, we have to learn from experience and attempt to choose an appropriate time,sometimes that time never comes, but often we can tidy up as we go. I very much fear that when we do not clear up as we go, dirt builds up in the corners of our relationships and makes us vulnerable to temptation. Those grievances build up and can make us ill both physically and mentally. We grow as we are able to be more honest with each other. I don’t like confrontation, but often it is best to be honest with kindness and good intent, with those who can cope with that experience and grow from it.

    • MSKeller says:

      I agree, built up grievances can become toxic for your body, your relationship, your spirit. I think that is the key, “be honest with kindness and good intent, with those who can cope with that experience and grow from it.” – Well said.

      How would you approach someone to invite that spirit?

  8. ji says:

    Here’s an approach: Let’s use sacrament meeting for worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ, and declaring the goodness of His gospel! If there ever is a need to change someone else (be careful here, but I did say “IF”), let it be done privately amenable to the principles in D&C 121 for the right reasons. If this were the case, there never would be any rib-poking in our meetings. It seems easier for us to talk about people than to talk to them — but if we change this mindset, starting with ourselves, well, it seems like a good idea.

    Even a simple sacrament meeting talk, such as on fasting, can be figured as here is how I approach a fast and how it has blessed me, rather than here is how you should fast.

    Just some thoughts…

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