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.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenjFmMmaclNgJpBoeener@ChacBRHUCiqKttalRFFeoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Changing the Subject: I
- Whether in small group discussions, large meetings, or chats between friends, changing the subject of
the conversation can be constructive, mischievous, frustrating, creative, tension relieving, necessary,
devious, or outright malicious. What techniques do we use to change the subject, and how can we cope
- Healthy Practices
- Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational
culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Solutions as Found Art
- Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they
aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways.
Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
- Virtual Clutter: I
- With some Web searching, you can find abundant advice for decluttering your home or office. And people
are even thinking about decluttering email inboxes. But the problem of clutter is far more widespread.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 12: Effects of Shared Information Bias: II
- Shared information bias is widely believed to lead to bad decisions. But over time, it can erode a group's ability to assess reality accurately. That can lead to a widening gap between reality and the group's perceptions of reality. Available here and by RSS on December 12.
- And on December 19: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
- Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings. Available here and by RSS on December 19.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfXDcEYbOnGGuARRlner@ChacsQVRYopEKbPsytdsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.