Make The Fault Seem Easy To Correct

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A short time ago, a bachelor friend of mine, about forty years old, became engaged, and his fiancée persuaded him to take some belated dancing lessons. “The Lord knows I needed dancing lessons,” he confessed as he told me the story, “for I danced just as I did when I first started twenty years ago. The first teacher I engaged probably told me the truth. She said I was all wrong; I would just have to forget everything and begin all over again. But that took the heart out of me. I had no incentive to go on. So I quit her.

“The next teacher may have been lying; but I liked it. She said nonchalantly that my dancing was a bit old-fashioned perhaps, but the fundamentals were all right, and she assured me I wouldn’t have any trouble learning a few new steps. The first teacher had discouraged me by emphasizing my mistakes. This new teacher did the opposite. She kept praising the things I did right and minimizing my errors. ‘You have a natural sense of rhythm,’ she assured me. ‘You really are a natural born dancer.’ Now my common sense tells me that I always have been and always will be a fourth-rate dancer; yet, deep in my heart, I still like to think that maybe she meant it. To be sure, I was paying her to say it; but why bring that up?

“At any rate, I know I am a better dancer than I would have been if she hadn’t told me I had a natural sense of rhythm. That encouraged me. That gave me hope. That made me want to improve.”


Tell a child, a husband, or an employee that he is stupid or dumb at a certain thing, that he has no gift for it, and he is doing it all wrong and you have destroyed almost every incentive to try to improve. But use the opposite technique—be liberal with your encouragement; make the thing seem easy to do; let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it, that he has an undeveloped flair for it—and he will practise until the dawn comes at the window in order to excel.

That is the technique that Lowell Thomas uses; and believe me, he is a superb artist in human relations. He builds you up. He gives you confidence. He inspires you with courage and faith. For example, I spent the weekend with Mr. and Mrs. Thomas; and, on Saturday night, I was asked to sit in on a friendly bridge game before a roaring fire. Bridge? I? Oh, no! No! No! Not me. I knew nothing about it. The game had always been a black mystery to me. No! No! Impossible!

“Why, Dale, it is no trick at all,” Lowell replied. “There is nothing to bridge except memory and judgment. You once wrote a chapter on memory. Bridge will be a cinch for you. It is right up your alley.”

And presto, almost before I realized what I was doing, I found myself for the first time at a bridge table. All because I was told I had a natural flair for it and the game was made to seem easy.

Speaking of bridge reminds me of Ely Culbertson, Culbertson’s name is a household word wherever bridge is played; and his books on bridge have been translated into a dozen languages, and a million copies have been sold. Yet he told me he never would have made a profession out of the game if a young woman hadn’t assured him he had a flair for it.

When he came to America in 1922, he tried to get a job teaching philosophy and sociology, but he couldn’t.

Then he tried selling coal, and he failed at that.

Then he tried selling coffee, and he failed at that, too.

It never occurred to him in those days to teach bridge. He was not only a poor card player, but he was also very stubborn. He asked so many questions and held so many post-mortem examinations that no one wanted to play with him.

Then he met a pretty bridge teacher, Josephine Dillon, fell in love and married her. She noticed how carefully he analysed his cards and persuaded him that he was a potential genius at the card table. It was that encouragement, and that alone, Culbertson told me, that caused him to make a profession of bridge.

So, if you want to change people without giving offence or arousing resentment, Rule 8 is: