Someone recently corrected my pronunciation of schism. I had said shism, and I was corrected to skism, which I accepted without retort. Looking at a dictionary the next day, I learned that both are acceptable in U.S. English, but both are less acceptable than sizm. (See Merriam-Webster.com.) I also learned from this exercise that my corrector didn't actually know what he was talking about.
That was a minor incident, but it reminded me that correcting the words or meaning of another can be a perilous proposition. Here are some of the risks of correcting others.
- Too much alacrity suggests an agenda beyond simple correction. It suggests anger, insecurity, revenge, or something even darker.
- Too much confidence puts you at risk of appearing arrogant.
- A mistaken correction risks making you look foolish — if not immediately, later.
- Even if you're right, you risk offending the person you corrected, or offending others, which can create or exacerbate tension in the group.
- Correcting something irrelevant to the conversation can deflect the group from its intended focus.
Probably you can think of half a dozen more risks if you spend an hour at it.
And there are oodles of ways to offer your views abrasively. When you hear someone use one of these, take cover, because something bad could be about to happen:
- You're wrong (mistaken, misinformed, …)
- The right answer is X
- That's not so; that's old information
- I used to think so, too (before I achieved my current state of enlightenment)
Sometimes, the urge to correct can be overwhelming. And sometimes, correction is actually called for. Here are some tips for offering your own views in ways that limit the risks.
- Check for necessity and effectiveness
- Is correction really necessary? Will correction advance the conversation in a material way? Generally, unless you're responding to a prior request, it doesn't pay to correct others' grammar, diction, pronunciation, tact, or manners.
- Acknowledge your own fallibility
- Acknowledge that you could be mistaken. For instance, "I remember that a little differently — I thought it went this way, …."
- Make details optional
- Ask yourself, "Is correction
really necessary? Will correction
advance the conversation
in a material way?"
- For even more safety, give the person or the group a choice: "I remember that discussion a bit differently — if that would be helpful."
- Acknowledge your own subjectivity
- "I disagree," is mostly a statement about your own thoughts; "You're wrong," is mostly a judgment about what the other has said, or what you believe the other said. The former is a little safer because it's information about yourself.
Most important, when you offer an alternative view, or a correction, in whatever form, look first for potholes. Leading the group in the wrong direction can be hazardous to all, especially to the one who led them there. Top Next Issue
Do you spend
your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
For more about differences and disagreements, see "Appreciate Differences," Point Lookout for March 14, 2001; "When You Think They've Made Up Their Minds," Point Lookout for May 21, 2003; "Blind Agendas," Point Lookout for September 2, 2009; and "Is the Question 'How?' or 'Whether?'," Point Lookout for August 31, 2011.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Appreciate Differences
- In group problem solving, diversity of opinion and healthy, reasoned debate ensure that our conclusions
take into account all the difficulties we can anticipate. Lock-step thinking — and limited debate
— expose us to the risk of unanticipated risk.
- Action Item Avoidance
- In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some
of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
- The Tyranny of Singular Nouns
- When groups try to reach decisions, and the issue in question has a name that suggests a unitary concept,
such as "policy," they sometimes collectively assume that they're required to find a one-size-fits-all
solution. This assumption leads to poor decisions when one-size-fits-all isn't actually required.
- Unnecessary Boring Work: I
- Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about
work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
- Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases, which I like to call high falutin' goofy talk. We use these phrases with perhaps less thought than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on July 18.
- And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfhoQfPDiVrIPtwdJner@ChactANxUaaaDvioCpTfoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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development. Read more about this program. Here's
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- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July
Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
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