How do you tell someone that they are doing something wrong?
Delivering tough advice is difficult regardless of context. How do you correct a family member? Employee? Superior? Community leader? Friend? Total stranger? Someone online?
Done incorrectly, and you can tear apart family relationships, business relationships, and destroy friendships - all because you alienated someone by how you corrected them.
“The religion (deen) is sincere advice (naseehah).” -Prophet (s)
The art of delivering feedback has been lost in our community. We often see one of two extremes - unapologetically telling it like it is, or simply shrugging things off and ignoring them.
Applying the golden rule here would dictate that we give advice the same way we want to receive it, but that’s not enough. Many of us feel discomfort accepting critical feedback - even if we proclaim loudly that we don’t care how anyone corrects us.
Effectively delivering feedback means creating an environment in which the recipient can take feedback, reflect on it, and learn from it.
The intention behind correcting someone is crucial. Do you sincerely want the other person to become better as a result of this advice? If you do, then that will shape what you say, how you say it, how you prepare, and how you follow up on it. For example, did you stop and actually make dua for the betterment of the person before giving them advice? Did you make dua for them to be able to implement it after delivering it?
Too often, in the age of social media, delivering advice has become a type of performance art to display ‘righteous outrage’ at some transgression. “Advice” is delivered in public forums not for the betterment of the individual, but for virtue signaling and pandering to a fan base.
Delivering advice effectively is built upon a relationship of trust.
The manner a parent can use to correct their own child is drastically different than the manner needed to correct a stranger at the masjid. What is your relationship and level of trust with a person?
When we misread that relationship, it creates negative consequences. Calling someone out online, especially if you don’t have a personal relationship, will most likely result in their doubling down on an incorrect behavior. In this case, ‘advising’ a person has created a greater evil than the one it was trying to stop.
They have, as the Prophet (s) warned, “helped the devil against their brother.”
Leadership means spending time with people and developing true relationships with them. It means seeing potential in everyone in spite of whatever shortcomings they may have.
The Prophet (s) said, “The believer who mixes with the people and endures their harm has a greater reward than one who does not mix the people nor endures their harm.”
That relationship is often the difference between someone accepting your advice versus getting defensive, or even worse - labeling you a hater or troll. A relationship is a prerequisite for being a partner in someone’s success.
The Prophet (s) once used his foot to shake someone lying down to rebuke them for lying down in a particular manner. Imagine for a moment, walking into the masjid up to someone you don’t know, and using your foot to shake them. They would most likely get upset thinking you were trying to kick them, or at the least get really annoyed. Now imagine responding to their annoyance by announcing, “Don’t blame me, I’m only following the sunnah!”
This type of behavior points to an intention of proving yourself to be right, or superior, rather than sincerely helping someone for the sake of Allah.
Once a relationship of trust exists, the actual art of delivering feedback will vary based on circumstance. Sometimes it may be candid and immediate. Sometimes it will require patience and gentleness.
Sometimes your advice may take a long time to have any effect, and sometimes it won’t have any at all.
The question you have to ask yourself is whether your presence in someone’s life is increasing or decreasing their motivation to change?