Correcting others

Mindful Communication and How NOT to Correct Others

posted in: Mindfulness | 7

You know those people that are always quick to correct you, to show you what you’re doing wrong and how you can do something better? Confession: I was one of those people! At least I was always careful not to correct in front of others, or to make fun of them, but still…

At the time, I thought I was doing them a favor. I thought they’d want to know the correct pronunciation of a word or a more efficient way of doing something.

But people don’t like to constantly be corrected over the littlest thing. It’s embarrassing to have someone point out your error, especially in front of a group. And usually it’s not anything big. Who cares if the Dodgers won the World Series in ’88 or ‘89, or if a word is pronounced incorrectly, the gist is the same. In fact, sometimes the correction is over something that’s subjective and there is no right or wrong!

Now there may be a good reason to offer a correction, a street address for instance, and then you’re free to offer up. I still correct name pronunciations. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do or not, I just think it’s important to say the name correctly. Well, and some habits die hard.

When it was pointed out to me that correcting all the time is rude and inconsiderate, I had to sit with that for a while. Why did I always find it necessary to correct? In my mind I was honestly trying to help, at least that’s what I told myself. But after I thought about it, it didn’t pass my test of using words mindfully: are they heartfelt, kind, necessary and truthful? While two out of four ain’t bad, it’s not good enough.

So then why did I think it was my duty to correct? I don’t feel like I have any overarching need to show how smart I am. I’m not a perfectionist. I don’t like to bully people. Here’s where I landed with it: early in my career, I was an accountant for a mid-size company and I had to balance their books to the penny. This was in the olden days, before computers, so it was hand written ledgers. That penny could take hours to find, and mistakes mattered, even little ones. Now, in my profession as a graphic designer, I constantly have people correcting me, and thank goodness! I welcome those corrections, because it’s way more embarrassing to put a printed piece out, something that will be around for a very long time, with errors. It’s embarrassing and it’s unprofessional. I wish I had a proofreader for my articles, because I’m constantly finding errors after I’ve already published them. Cringe.

Correction is important in business. Generally, people don’t want to do business with those that are messy or that make a lot of mistakes. But all this need for correction in my professional life, had trickled into my private life, and a new habit was born.

Since the error of my ways (pun intended) was pointed out to me, I have intentionally let go of the need to correct. If something small comes up, I just let it slide right past me. If it’s something like giving someone directions, oftentimes that can go without correction and the person will still find their way. Does it really matter that it’s a half mile instead of a quarter mile? If it’s something bigger, I’ll take some of the heat. saying something like “yeah, I get turned around in that area too. I think it’s on Third Street instead of Olive.”

As I mentioned, besides the desire to be helpful, there are other reasons why people find the need to correct. Some people use it as a show of power, intentionally making fun of, or cutting someone else down for their errors. Those are the bullies. Others want to show how much they know. Still others are perfectionists. If you recognize yourself as a corrector, it’s okay! Don’t judge yourself. Recognizing it as it comes up lets you choose your words and responses. That’s what mindfulness is all about. You might choose to say nothing, if it’s something insignificant. If you decide to respond, follow my advice for mindful communications: is it heartfelt, kind, necessary and truthful? And if it doesn’t meet all four of those criteria, it’s best left unsaid.

7 Responses

  1. Carolynne

    Another great piece of writing. We need to brainstorm how to expand the circle of readers.

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