There is a big difference between teaching and preaching. Many of us are inclined to help people, but it is sometimes hard to know how to be helpful without sounding like we are forcing or putting our own beliefs upon others.

Shame and Guilt Don’t Help People Change

I read a few Brene’ Brown books, and her message was clear, shame does not help people change. That, however, does not stop people from shaming others to try to get them to stop doing something or to do something they want them to do.

Near the beginning of the new year, my daily mediation app changed it’s format a bit. Suddenly the focus started to sound like preaching rather than helping. One particular morning the meditation stressed how important it was for all of us to help other people, do more, get out there and volunteer. It stressed me out and made me instantly feel guilty and ashamed for not doing more. However, it did not motivate me to change my behavior. Instead, it made me feel angry and I started to wonder whether I wanted to continue with this particular app.

I talked with my friend, and he had the exact same reaction that day’s meditation. It had changed from a loving, helping message to a clear dictation of what we should or should not be doing, and I didn’t like how it made me feel. Shame is never the answer.

Show By Example – Share What Worked for You

I sometimes tag along to AA meetings with my friend. He is an artful speaker who is greatly respected in the 12-step community. My friend has discovered how to balance telling his story and showing by example rather than preaching. He tells his sponsees to “share what worked for you rather than tell someone how to do it and what they should do. Keep the message focused on you.”

That approach works so much better. People want what you have. If they see you living a happy life, they will want to know what you did to get there. You don’t have to force them to make changes or follow your lead, just share what you did to get there.

Find that Delicate Balance

So how do you ensure you are teaching rather than preaching? Listen to your words carefully. Stay away from statements that begin with “you should…” “you need to…” and “just do this…”

It may seem like a delicate balance between teaching and preaching, but it really isn’t. If you stick to talking about you and telling “your” story and what you have learned, and how it helped you, the other person may naturally want to do the same. You cannot force anyone to change. It has to be their decision and their motivation.

If you ever wonder, am I being helpful or trying to force things, ask yourself what is your goal is all this. It might help to direct your words, so you know you are teaching and not preaching. Teaching is helpful, kind, loving, and inspiring. Preaching is all about control.