Calling Forth or Calling Out

Whether we are calling someone forth or calling them out, the content is remarkably similar. However, the messaging and tone are quite different. We might get a cheap thrill when calling people out. It can feel like winning a game of Gotcha. Especially when we feel the call-out is uniquely insightful. It can also be an emotional release where we get to be “justifiably” angry or superior.

The thing with calling people out is that it often comes from a place of ego. To feed our ego, we like the public aspect to calling someone out, making them lose face. When we call someone out, we’re putting the burden of change entirely on them. Our tone is adversarial. The moment we make engaging with other people about ‘being right,’ we need to stop and check our heart.

Calling forth is a mindset, a way of showing who fights for the greatness within others. It comes from a place of service and an open heart. It starts with intention, the intent to call a person to higher ground and build on their strengths. Calling forth is motivational. The tone is collaborative and we’re sharing the burden of getting better. It is coaching as opposed to scolding.

As a coach I learned there was always more to football than what was on the field and to look beyond the game. Athletes, even young ones, know the second that they screw up. They don’t need coaches publicly pointing out when they mess up. That steals their joy of participating. Calling a young athlete up is more positive, more productive, and less demeaning. It conveys we believe in them while reminding them they are capable of more. It helps the athlete to stop beating themselves up and start to think positively. John Wooden, arguably the greatest coach said, “Young people need models, not critics.” I instituted a ‘brush it off’ tactic while coaching basketball. I taught the girls to signal to me after they made an error that they got over it by wiping their hands on their jersey.

The point isn’t to be soft or to avoid conflict. Conflict is a positive element to team building or problem solving when we come from the positive perspective. Productive conflict is not about “winning an argument” but the humble pursuit of truth. Mining for conflict is a part of building a healthy team, it creates trust and vulnerability. There are also situations when a heavier hand is needed. Calling out repeated safety violations is necessary; calling out sexist or illegal behavior must happen.

As leaders in organizations, teams, and families, we want to build people up, not tear them down. Calling someone up, not out, to their higher potential is more effective across career development, leadership, team building, and every aspect of relationship-building. We want to inspire our team members to levels of effectiveness that they never imagined. Real leaders distinguish themselves by rising with their people. They take people with them on the journey. They don’t go off by themselves, expecting others to fall in behind them like processionary caterpillars.

We’ll never get to a high performing team if we keep calling each other out. Author J. S. Knox stated, “You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time. We must earn someone’s respect before we can build a relationship. And we have to have a relationship before we can have influence.” We can’t build on broken and when we call someone out, we break their spirit.

If we intend to add value and be successful with people, we must be able to connect with them. We need to connect before we correct. Without that connection our words carry little weight. People listen when there is mutual respect. However, when we focus on correcting behavior without investing in the relationship, at some point, the relationship degrades and the correction falls on deaf ears (or even worse, defiant ones.) So, if you’re a “get it done and move on” kind of coach or leader, pay attention to the adage, “I don’t care what you know, until I know that you care.”

It is concerning how people approach differences in opinion these days, especially on social media. People feel good about themselves after calling others out. We need to be less judgmental and more accepting. The world is messy, there are ambiguities, and people who do really good stuff, have flaws.

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain — and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” – Dale Carnegie

St. Paul in many of his letters, advocates calling forth. In Colossians (4:5-6), “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” In his second letter to Timothy (2:23–25), “Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth.” In Ephesians (4:1–3), “I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.”

The best example of calling someone forth as opposed to out, is the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus could have done what the crowd wanted and called him out. Instead He calls him forth and they dine together. As a result, Zacchaeus confirms his repentance by his determination to amend his former ways.

The best example of connection before correction is the story in John’s gospel (8:2-11) about the woman caught in adultery. Jesus knew her sin. However, He saw the person first. The Pharisees only saw what was wrong and sinful. They didn’t seek to understand. They were concerned with correcting and judging. Jesus connected before He corrected. He connected on several points: He defended her from her accusers, He stood up on behalf of the woman, He asked her a question. Only after those steps did He offer correction with “Go, from now on do not sin anymore.”

Let us fight for the greatness within others and share the burden of getting better. Let us pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another. Let us respond to teach, coach, and correct with kindness.

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