“Fixing” people

Epigram seen in an architect’s office: “There is no greater passion in the heart of man, neither love nor hate, than the desire to edit the work of another.”

Why is it, one wonders, that teachers, instructors, partners, strangers — actually, (most, many?) people in all walks of life — feel that it is their job to find fault with and correct others?

But my interest here is with Argentine tango. Oh, but wait a moment! What am I doing here; am I calling out teachers for doing something wrong? Well that’s not right! I’m saying that as we help others achieve more of their potential in dance, we have better ways of doing that when we can accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.

In my car I’m listening to the book THE ART OF POSSIBILITY by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. “Presenting twelve breakthrough practices for bringing creativity into all human endeavors.” The current chapter is “Giving an A”, about how much more likely we are to have successful, uplifting relationships with others – and ourselves! – when we take a success-minded viewpoint. Like sculptor Michelangelo, not adding on, rather, chipping away only the minimum marble to release the angel inside. We want to see the perfect possibilities in ourselves and in our students, then help to discover how to manifest those possibilities.

Instead of judging the actions of ourselves or others as good or bad, we gain in understanding when we merely observe how well our actions serve us.

I caught myself – too late – saying, “Nice correction,” to a student when they spontaneously improved a performance element we had noted earlier. A correction implies that something was wrong. What they were doing was not wrong; rather, it did not serve them as well as a modification would. So now I am installing in me an anchor (a la Alexander Technique) to recognize – much the way a Leader or Follower wants before an action to take an instant of reflection – when I am about to offer a “correction” OR compliment, to frame it as “better” or conversely “not as useful as, because …”

Fixing, correcting, right, wrong – these terms all imply something broken, something to be *made* right. Versus the old Sears store grades of “Good, Better, Best.” Here is a difficulty with telling someone that what they are doing is wrong, no matter how nicely we try to put it, we are saying that they are broken and we can fix them. It creates a negative, rejection reaction in a person. When you “fix” something, that is a passive activity for the object of your concern. They haven’t done anything internally to understand why and how. Such “fixes” are likely to be frustratingly (for teacher and student) short-lived and requiring frequent reminders.

How much better when a student or partner discovers for themselves how and why a modification to technique might serve them better? Then it becomes not a judgement of “you are doing something bad; you are wrong” but rather a calibration along the scale of okay, good, even better.

So here’s a practical example. Think how often we get told, or we tell others, “Your arm’s too stiff!” Perhaps you can feel, even just reading this, the sting of being corrected. Now imagine your reaction to the question, “How comfortable is your arm?”

Our brains are efficient question-answering machines. They are all the time trying to make meaning out of our experiences. (So, how much more powerful when we can give people good, positive experiences!) When you ask someone a question about how they feel, they immediately go inside themselves, seeking an answer to the question of how they feel, AND an answer to why they were asked the question, AND what effect any changes might have. They are creating meaning for themselves instead of being told how to act and think.

“Catch them doing something right.” That venerable old management advice is about giving everyone an “A” from the beginning, then seeing how we can work together to make it an “A+”!