How to tactfully correct other people's mistakes?

A image on how to tactfully correct others.

Anyone can correct others.

But to correct others in a tactfully way that does some good is an art.

It is necessary to know, not only what to say, but when to say it and where and how.

Take, for example, this true-life incident.

In a certain living room there was a group of what might be called well-educated people.

All were listening intently as one of their number, a man, told an interesting story.

At one point his wife interrupted to correct him on a slight mistake in grammar.

Clearly displeased, the husband repeated his grammatical error with added emphasis and proceeded with his story.


More than just good intentions

A discussion with a co-worker.

Most important in the art of correction is the question of motive.

The motive should never be a negative one, to belittle, to embarrass others, or out of resentment or spite.

The very best motive for offering correction is love.

No doubt the wife who corrected her husband in the matter of grammar did so because of her love for him.

She probably would not have thought of saying anything if another man had made that mistake, because it probably would have meant little to her.

No doubt about it, among the ways that love can be shown is by offering correction.

However, one who is truly a friend, and who really loves others, also needs to cultivate empathy.

More is needed than good intentions.

They might be likened to the power needed to run machines.

Important as the power is, it is also important for machinery to be finely adjusted, with gears and bearings not too loose nor too tight, and essential also is enough of the right kind of lubrication.

Otherwise, in spite of all the power available, the machine will soon grind to a halt.

Similarly when correcting others, you need, not only good intentions, but also the wisdom of empathy, that is, the ability to put yourself in the other’s place, so as to know how to go about it, that the correction might do some good.

Important in the art of correcting others is also being certain of your facts.

You may think you know, and then find out you were mistaken and so suffer embarrassment for having presumed to correct.

Not to be overlooked is the need to take into consideration circumstances that might have a bearing on whether a thing is wise or unwise, whether a certain course of action should be criticized or not.

A person may make a very poor showing along a certain line of activity, but if you knew all the facts, all the obstacles he had to contend with, you might be less inclined to correct him.

Under the circumstances he might be doing very well indeed.

There is also the matter of correcting trifles.

One young husband complained to his very bright young wife:

Dear, within just two minutes you have corrected me four times, and that in regard to sheer trifles. Did it really matter whether these little things were done in just a certain way?”

No, it would not have mattered, and in mentioning them she betrayed a lack of empathy.

Apparently she was letting herself get into the bad habit of correcting her spouse in regard to trifles, unessential details, and so was in danger of becoming a nagger.

Why did she do it?

Why do so many others like her do it?

It could well be because of some unconscious discontent with submission.

Or it might be a feeling of rivalry of which not even she herself was aware.

This, in turn, might be due to thoughtlessness on the part of her husband.

A wise and loving husband can do much to remedy matters by ever showing appreciation for what his wife is and for all she contributes to his comfort, pleasure and well-being, physically, emotionally and intellectually.


When and where?

A discussion with office workers.

If it seems advisable to give correction, it is well to keep in mind that, whenever possible, it is best to correct others in private.

Unless we are careful and display empathy, we can do more harm than good, even with the best intentions in the world.

Married couples in particular do well to keep this principle in mind.

As one marriage counselor well observed:

It is good for man and wife to give counsel to each other, but always do it in private. Have regard for each other’s feelings. Do not belittle your mate before others. Nor is it wise to do it in the form of teasing.”

This includes parent's not correcting each other in the presence of their children.

But it must be added that at times those in authority might be required to give correction in the presence of others.

However, that is done, not over minor matters, but when one makes a practice of a bad influence on others.

When this is done, it is not so much for the individual’s benefit as for the benefit of others.


How and to whom?

Complaining to an administrator

Except for such rare occasions, it is always wise to put the one to be corrected in a receptive frame of mind.

One of the ways this can be done is by first giving some praise or commendation.

By first having something favorable to say you can make a person more amenable to correction.

It will help him to appreciate that you are not prejudiced, that you take note of the strong and good points as well as the weak points and, more than that, that you have empathy and appreciate that receiving correction is not likely to be pleasant.

If you would master the art of correcting others you must be concerned with how you give the correction.

Unless the error is very serious and there is willfulness or indifference associated with it, it is best to proceed in offering correction in a gentle manner, with kindness and mildness.

Yes, kindness and mildness make it so much easier for others to accept your correction.

This, however, requires self-control, for correcting others in mildness, in kindness and calmly is not following the line of least resistance.

The art of correcting others includes taking into consideration the matter of position.

Certainly those in authority need not feel apologetic when they, in wisdom and with mildness, offer correction to those in their charge.

Administering correction is part of the duty of parents, bosses and administrators.

True, these themselves might at times err and have need to have an error called to their attention.

This, of course, should be done in a most respectful manner.


Conclusion


So, be fully informed so as to know what to say, have the right motive, give the warning out of the goodness of their heart, even though others may not appreciate it.

Consider the time and place, not insisting upon being heard when it is not convenient for others to listen.

By mastering the art of correcting others you can hope to do the most good in improving the quality of life of others.

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