Not everyone agrees with my advice or what I have to say on my blog. That’s okay. In fact I think my editors prefer when people disagree because it sparks a more vibrant and lively conversation! I certainly have no problem with people disagreeing. I don’t think you can send anything out into the blogosphere without expecting some backlash. As the popular expression goes, “If two people agree, one of them is unnecessary!”

I am open to opinions and ideas that differ from mine and I flatter myself that I am prepared to change my mind when proven wrong. The only thing that really makes a difference is how it is said. I appreciate when readers start with “I usually enjoy your columns” or “I usually agree with you.” Even though that alerts me to what’s coming (!), I am grateful that they began with praise. It makes the rebuke easier to swallow.

And that’s important for all of us – parents, teachers, spouses and readers. I still remember a call I received from the teacher of one of my young children. The teacher launched into a long list of criticisms of my child. “Can you tell what you appreciate about this child?” I responded. Unfortunately there was no reply but I did stop the teacher in her tracks.

How could she call up a parent and subject her to a tirade about the faults of her child? What made her think I would be receptive to that approach? It’s possible that she was frustrated with that child who had just given her a run for her money but nevertheless her job was to focus on the positive, to lead with my child’s good qualities and then open the discussion of the areas that need work. This would accomplish two important things – it would make her feel more loving towards the child and it would let me know that she cared and therefore allow me to be more receptive to the issues she was raising.

Perhaps we have a managerial position at work. There are definitely employees that we need to guide to more effective behaviors but if we begin with words of praise, they are much more likely to implement our suggestions (the old “you catch more flies with honey” approach). Perhaps our spouse could use a little nudge in a different direction. This is an area that demands great sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Only if it’s really important should it be mentioned. And when we feel we need to, we should always begin with praise, “I really appreciate that you do the driving on all our family trips but if you would stay within the speed limit I would be able to relax and enjoy them so much more” is a possible example.

It’s easy to see faults. It doesn’t take any great wisdom or perception or effort. Focusing on the positive, on the other hand, is real work. It requires time and energy and concentration. We need to pay attention and really think. But if we want to build meaningful lasting relationships and we want to grow as human beings and help those around us who express the same desire we need to keep our energy directed to their positive qualities and diminish our attention to their negative ones. Once in a while, in a very long while, we may need to give someone correction.

We need to make sure it’s necessary and that we can deliver it with lots of praise and love. If not, we should just keep our mouths – and keyboards – shut!