Your co-worker continually uses the incorrect statistic in a team meeting. The new guy keeps mispronouncing your name. Your supervisor doesn’t have the right understanding of how a certain process should work.
Yep, somebody is misinformed and blanketing the world in inaccurate information. You feel it’s your duty to set things right. But, at the same time, you don’t want to come off as arrogant and condescending.
So, what do you do? Well, good news, my friends. It’s possible for you to correct someone without sounding like a domineering know-it-all. Here’s how!
1. Start With Something Positive
Hey, we all have feelings, and it’s never easy to be told we’re wrong. Plus, you definitely don’t want to be that person who made your co-worker cry in the conference room because you were too blunt with your approach.
So, before jumping right in with something like, “Hey, this is really wrong!” it’s important to cushion the blow a little bit.
Try this: “Hey, Scott! It’s evident that you put a ton of time and effort into this project, and it looks great!”
2. Avoid Sounding Authoritative
Sure, you’re probably great at your job. But, does that mean that you’re the all-knowing deity whose knowledge reigns superior over everyone else’s in the office? No, even you’ve made mistakes.
Being overly authoritative, confrontational, and closed-minded when making a correction will only serve to make you look pretentious and condescending. Instead, point out where you take issue, and then open it up for discussion.
Try this: “I’m looking at page 10 of this document, and something’s not quite matching up for me. Can we take a quick look at this part together?”
3. Utilize Questions When Appropriate
Notice how that above example utilized a question? It helped to take the correction down a couple of notches, from seemingly bossy to friendly and helpful, didn’t it?
That’s just one example of why incorporating questions when correcting someone is so beneficial. Phrasing things as inquiries, rather than statements, makes it obvious that your intention is to facilitate a conversation that ultimately improves the end result—not just dole out strict demands.
Try this: “I see here that you’re planning on involving Team A right from the start. But, do you think bringing them in a little later could help to streamline the process?”
4. Provide Evidence
Alright, so you don’t need to provide detailed documentation to correct someone on the pronunciation of your name, or to stop him from burning down the break room with his incorrect use of the coffeemaker.
But, in most other cases, evidence is helpful for demonstrating that you have logical reasoning behind your correction—and that you’re not just shouting out these remarks to make your co-worker look incompetent.
Try this: “You know, I actually dealt with a situation really similar to this one just a couple of months back. I’d be happy to show you how we were able to work that out.”
5. Offer Help
Listen, this person didn’t intentionally goof this up. And, he or she certainly didn’t set out to make your job harder. Chances are, it was an honest oversight, and he or she’s left feeling embarrassed and a little overwhelmed by what needs to be done in order to remedy things.
So, be that kind and supportive co-worker who offers a helping hand in a time of crisis. It’s your chance to demonstrate that you weren’t trying to be insulting. Plus, you’ll be able to ensure that everything is correct the second time around!
Try this: “Thanks so much for being so open to my feedback. Feel free to let me know if I can help you out at all with these revisions. I’m happy to assist!”
6. Use a Gentle, Helpful Tone
This should go without saying, but your tone and overall presentation can really make or break the difference between constructive and condescending.
Obviously, you don’t want to yell or scream. But, you should also make an effort to stay away from short and snappy sentences, and avoid using defensive body langauge (like crossing your arms). Do you very best to maintain an overall upbeat demeanor. After all, these physical cues can often say a lot more than your actual words.
There’s no doubt that you walk a fine line between productive and patronizing, and that striking that balance in order to effectively correct someone isn’t always so easy. Put these strategies into play, and you’re sure to get your point across in a way that’s helpful and friendly—without needing to worry about a crying co-worker in the conference room.
Photo of giving feedback courtesy of Shutterstock.
TopicsTools & Skills , Workplace Relationships , Co-Workers , Syndication , Management Style , Communication
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author