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MCLEOD: Well-intended comments that suck the life out of people

Are you sabotaging people without realizing it?

We want the people around us to do their best, but sometimes, in our efforts to "help," we wind up making them feel worse.

I've watched well-intended bosses, parents and spouses unknowingly crush the very people they want to build up. Sometimes a single ill-timed comment is all it takes to send your confidence crashing to the floor.

Here are four of the most common soul-sucking things well-intended people say when they're trying to help:

1. There's a typo on page 3.

Nothing is more demoralizing than putting your heart and soul into a presentation, only to have your boss or teacher read it and the first words out of their mouth are, "There's a typo on page 3."

Before the perfectionists start to sputter, let me be clear. There's nothing wrong with correcting errors. Just don't make it the very first thing you say.

When someone puts their ideas in writing, they've served up a piece of their soul. The last thing you want to do is put a sword through it.

I confess, this is a personal soft spot for me. As a dyslexic, poor speller, I didn't become a writer until the age of 35. School was an endless sea of red ink and teachers accusing me of being sloppy.

If you want to keep people engaged, comment on the content first, then offer suggestions about the mechanics in the context of helping make their great ideas even more polished.

Nobody says, "I loved that book, every word was spelled perfectly."

2. Are you wearing THAT?

In our house, we have a rule: Don't comment on someone's outfit unless there's time to fix it.

If your fly is down or your lipstick is smudged, we'll tell you. If you want wardrobe advice the night before, we'll sit on the couch for an endless fashion show until you find the perfect thing.

But if you're about to walk out in what we think is a less than flattering suit, all we say is, "Go get 'em champ!"

We want every member of our family to walk out the door feeling great. Second-guessing someone's wardrobe at the last minute erodes their confidence at the very moment they need it most.

3. That was great, but ...

The words you hear right after you finish something are the words you remember the most. If the speech, recital, program, or game was mostly great, tell them gushingly and immediately.

If there's a small piece that could be improved next time, wait until you're prepping for next time to bring it up.

4. Don't get your hopes up.

People warn against hope because they don't want you to be hurt.

But whenever I hear it, I want to respond: My hopes aren't crushed by failure. My hopes are crushed by you not believing I can succeed.

Keeping your hopes low doesn't insulate you from disappointment. It just keeps you from trying.

If someone shares what you think is an overly ambitious plan, the best response is, "If anyone can do it, you can. Tell me more."

They might surprise you. They may know exactly how long the odds are.

Getting your hopes up isn't risky or unrealistic. Hope gives you the emotional jet fuel to tackle big stuff.

People can rebound from failure. But when someone you care about doesn't have confidence in you, it's a lot harder to recover.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of three books, including "The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small," a Washington Post Top 5 Book for Leaders.