A reader asked:
I had a bad childhood habit of correcting everything. I now realize how awful that is but still do it on reflex occasionally. Do you have any tips on how to stop that reflex? (It’s out of my mouth before I even think and it has (rightfully) made some people not huge fans of me)
I think one thing you can do is apologize immediately.
- Them: So, enormous hounds are the largest dogs in the world. I literally want one more than anything.
- You: You mean figuratively. Literally would mean you’d trade your house for an enormous hound.
- You: Wait, that was an obnoxious thing to say. I’m sorry. What were you saying about enormous hounds?
In some contexts, you can filter by writing, eg:
- If you’re in a discussion group or a class, it can help to have your computer or a notebook out
- And, when someone says something wrong, write down the correction instead of saying it
- Then, if the correction still seems important enough to say, you can say it
- (It’s not always wrong to correct people.)
Sometimes it’s better to correct stuff later rather than in the moment:
- People don’t usually like immediate feedback very much
- Especially if they’re feeling insecure about how well they’re doing (which most people are to some extent sometimes, even if they’re really confident)
- People can be more receptive later, especially if you are respectful and and constructive about it
- And if you also point out stuff you think they’re doing right sometimes
- If you only ever say negative things, you’re likely to be perceived as “that guy who is always watching for me to slip up so they have something to correct”
- If you listen for things to admire as well as things to criticize, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll be perceived as “that guy who listens and responds in valuable ways”.
Short version: Not everything needs to be corrected. If you have a bad habit of compulsively correcting people, it’s good to get into the habit of apologizing and actively listening. It can also help to write before speaking in group discussions. Some feedback is best given after the fact. If you only ever give critical feedback, it will annoy people. It’s important to look for things to admire and praise as well.