Have you ever misspoken, only to have someone correct you right away? Are you thankful that the person cared enough to point out your error to everyone within earshot? Some people just can’t resist pointing out other people’s errors, regardless of who’s present and how minuscule the error is.
I once knew someone that would jump at the chance to correct everyone at every chance he could. From grammatical errors to pronunciation mistakes to misspellings in email messages, this guy couldn’t resist adding his two cents and showing everyone how smart he was and how dumb everyone else was. How did people like this person? They hated him.
You might think “hate” is too strong a word or inaccurate, but it was the word most commonly used to describe this person by the folks who fell victim to his corrective-ness. It goes to show you that 1: people don’t enjoy being corrected in public and 2: this guy would have been much better off just keeping his mouth shut.
From elementary school all the way up through adulthood, I’ve come across people that felt the need to correct others. Some had innocent intentions while others were excited at the opportunity to show everyone present that they were smarter than someone else. Regardless of their intentions, what they’ve accomplished through their corrections has ranged from ticking someone off to ruining a friendship.
Why people don’t like to be corrected:
First, it’s embarrassing to have someone point out your error; especially in front of a group (this is why many people are deathly afraid of public speaking). In many cases, the error is minor enough that most of the people listening didn’t catch it and the ones that did still understood the point. For example, you might talk about a movie and say that you liked the Ferrari that the main character drove and someone might say “don’t you mean Lamborghini?” As a car fanatic that loves Italian sports cars, I can say that the cars are quite different, but in the conversation’s context, everyone gets the point.
If someone was giving directions and said to take Maple Street instead of Oak Street, then that’s a good reason for correcting them. But pointing out in public that someone used incorrect grammar, pronounced a word wrong, or said one thing but meant another is tactless — it adds no value to the conversation and all it does is embarrass the speaker.
Why people correct others:
Some people get their kicks and feel powerful by cutting others down so this correction can sometimes be considered a form of bullying. Others are honestly trying to help, but just lack the tact for doing it right. And still others are perfectionists and can’t help themselves. You’ve probably been in group conversations where someone had made the same mistake over and over again. I can think of a few situations where everyone knew the person was making a mistake but still got the point, yet someone in an effort to help, pointed out the mistake and therefore embarrassed the person. Is it more embarrassing to realize you made a mistake that some people may have caught after the fact, or to have someone point it out mid-conversation so you know everyone listening now knows you made the mistake? I’d say the latter is much more embarrassing.
How to correct someone:
If it’s something small and there’s no harm done, pretend it never happened. I’ve seen people start to correct themselves, but before they could, someone else jumped in to do it for them. So give the person at least a sentence or two to discover and correct the mistake on their own. If they keep making the mistake, then you might want to point it out in private. If the mistake they’re making can cause a problem (such as poor advice or wrong directions), then you can step in right away.
In either case, you want to make sure you handle it carefully. Here are some tips:
- Don’t make a big issue out of it. Casually refer back to the conversation and then correct yourself.
- Say something like “yeah, I get them mixed up too and people are always correcting me.”
- If you have a good rapport with the person, make a joke out of it, but do so delicately.
- Never be harsh, condescending, or say anything that would hurt the other person’s feelings.
Again, except for your own school-aged children (and even then, be polite when doing so), avoid the temptation of correcting people over minor mistakes. We’re all human and we all make mistakes from time to time, so treat it the way you’d want others to treat you if you made a mistake.