How to Tear Down, How to Build Up
In my previous life, before I became a coach and speaker, I was a pianist. I still sometimes play piano at church, along with several other people. Some are beginners, and I try to encourage and support them. It always surprises (and horrifies) me, when listeners try to compliment me by disparaging the less experienced pianists. You know what? Putting others down does NOT uplift me.
Putting others down doesn’t uplift anyone. This doesn’t just apply to pianists. It applies to coworkers and team members and clients and staff, too. You don’t build up by tearing down.
When you make disparaging remarks about others, it might make the person you’re speaking to feel superior for a moment. But there are three negative side effects to those comments that take a long time to wear off:
1) You increase anxiety. Your negative comments expose you as a critic. You may have been trying to compliment one person by putting down another, but instead you are sending the message that you notice flaws and talk about them! That doesn’t provide encouragement. It just adds pressure.
2) You create competition. Sometimes competition can be fun or useful. Most of the time, it’s destructive and distracting. In most contexts, it’s totally unnecessary (like at church, for example). By its very nature, competition implies there is one winner and everyone else is a loser. Comparing performance among peers and putting others down leads to rivalry, which paradoxically inhibits productivity and creativity, dampens self-esteem, and impedes collaboration and teamwork.
3) You produce a culture of perfectionism. You know what else inhibits productivity, creativity, self-esteem, collaboration, and teamwork? Perfectionism. If perfection is the standard, why bother trying or learning anything new? You might as well not start. You’ll never be good enough… Is that really what you’re trying to get across with your comments?
If you’re hoping to uplift someone, here are two words to keep in mind instead:
En-courage: It means to promote, increase, or inspire courage in someone else. To encourage is to help others overcome their fears and persevere in the face of difficulties. You can do this by reminding people of their successes and their strengths, putting perceived risks in context (is it really SO scary??), and putting them in touch with their values. Everyone can use encouragement now and then, but beginners especially need that boost. When you see someone trying something new, struggling, failing, or facing a fear, be encouraging.
Edify: It means to build up. It comes from the same root as the word “edifice,” which is a building. Once someone has established a firm foundation in a skill set or an organization or a venture, you can help them build upon it. Give solid feedback, not superficial, puffed up fluff that doesn’t mean anything. A house of marshmallows may be sweet, but it won’t stand for long. Your words must have substance if they are to be constructive. Be specific and concrete. This gives people something to build on.
Your communication can tear down or it can build up. You can’t build one person up by tearing another down. Yet when you do build one person up, you inspire more than just that one person. Everyone wins.