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Reprimanding with Moderation

How To Reprimand Calmly

Reprimands delivered with moderation are usually more effective than shouting, emotion-filled words, passive aggression, or backhanded compliments.

On occasion, you might be required to disagree with someone or reprimand them. Your counter-narratives and tellings-off will be far more powerful when moderation is applied. (It's the equivalent of the headmaster telling you he's not angry but disappointed or that you've let yourself down.)

Either because of your standing or theirs, you might be ill-advised to raise your voice or use words full of emotion. Besides, calmer words are usually far more effective.

What Are Calm Words?

I'm not suggesting you should use backhanded compliments and become passive aggressive. Even passive aggressive is too aggressive. Here are some witty examples to explain what is meant by backhanded compliments:
  • "Remember, Russ, it's just as important to stay behind and guard the women and children."
  • "It's nice that you can wear tight jeans without that unsightly bulge that most men have."
  • "What I like about your toupee is it says, ‘Hey, I have better things to spend my money on!'"
  • "You have four cats? It only smells like one."
  • "Lee, it's great that you're so self-confident, you can wear anything."
  • "He is a modest man, and he has much to be modest about."
  • (Attributed to Sir Winston Churchill)
To reprimand calmly, you need to come down one notch from passive aggressive to what I like to call "possibly aggressive." Here are some examples of "possibly aggressive":
  • "Mark is full of untapped potential."
  • "The meeting was perfectly adequate."
  • "Thank you for your comprehensive letter."
  • (This is a secret code. It always means your letter was too long and detailed.)
  • "The meal was nutritious."
  • (You think this is a compliment? Try it on your spouse.)
  • "I was a little surprised to see you had recommended Simon over Alan."
  • ("I was a little surprised" is a calm way of saying "what the hell were you thinking?".)
  • "With a little more tempering, this man will be an excellent officer."
This is not about delivering a powerful reprimand. It's about expressing some displeasure without damaging your relationship or losing your hard-earned air of control. You can't expose your "iron fist." That's bullying. And where do you go from there? You just need to let people know you're the one wielding the power without demonstrating it by shouting.

This quotation neatly captures the idea of presenting "possibly aggressive" reprimands:
"Iron fist in a velvet glove"
(Attributed to French military leader and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769–1821)

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