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How hands-on should you be about your boss’s grammar?

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Question: "I always quietly fix my boss’s grammar errors in print documents, but that doesn’t seem to help his speech much, and he often commits very basic mistakes that make him sound unprofessional. If I dare to correct the way he talks, even in subtle ways, is he likely to take it as a personal judgment and resent me?”  – Caitlin, Grand Island, Ne.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Mia January 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I agree with Karen, they are adults not children. If any verbal corrections are to be made it should come from their supervisor. If you notice it then trust me so does upper management.

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Kelly January 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I have a few co-workers who have bad grammar habits. One of the things I’ve found that helps is to find useful articles (either online or in publications) that have grammar tips. Rather than just sharing it with one problematic person, I share it with the entire office, explaining about how I found this article with lots of helpful tips that I found to really useful. It takes the focus off of the one person specifically, and can also be a great resource for others whom you may not realize also have grammar problems.

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Mosopefoluwa January 7, 2013 at 9:19 am

I believe addressing your boss’ grammar should be done with wisdom so that they don’t take it for rudeness or insubordination.

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Kristin January 7, 2013 at 8:47 am

I tend to agree with Kathy Sandy’s comment. If you are correcting your boss’s grammar in a written document, then you have already brought to his/her attention that there is a noticeable problem. I have been fortunate in my career to support professionals that have also become friends. However, not even the closest friend would be happy with a public acknowledgement of a grammar misstep. I like the non-verbal cue that Kathy offers of widened eyes that can signal a mistake that can be discussed later in private and hopefully avoided in the future.

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Lea January 4, 2013 at 9:58 am

I agree with the majority of the comments made. In print documents, that’s part of your job, but to correct his verbal grammar would be insulting and I doubt he would appreciate it, private or public.

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Trisha January 4, 2013 at 9:55 am

As far as spelling, grammar, etc., in written correspondence goes, I wouldn’t hesitate to correct it. This is a direct reflection on the overall professionalism of the company, any many times the first impression customers/clients get of your business. Also, it goes without saying that I would be remiss in my duties if I let blatant errors slip by. This is something that particular boss needs to be reminded of as to why you were hired in the first place. You’re not being malicious or overbearing… you’re doing your job!

On the matter of verbally correcting the boss’s speaking and language habits… I wouldn’t dare correct my boss, in public or private (unless I was his/her mother… maybe).

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Carmen January 7, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I agree with you, Trisha. Written correspondence is very important in the professional world. I was lucky in my previous job since my boss felt that it was better for him to explain to me what he wanted to say and I would compose his letters for him, let him read it, and make additional comments or edit what I had written in case it was not exactly what he wanted to say. He would sign the letter when he felt it was exactly what he wanted to say. He acknowledged that he was not very good in spelling or composing, but he was a good boss and a clever businessman.

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Gloria January 4, 2013 at 7:44 am

I also did what Kris wrote about above and it did help. Directly correcting someone can be offensive and create for some touchy situations b/w your manager and you that is not needed. The way Kris and handled it is a way to address it in a gracious manner while having you come out on top and not making the other peson feel uncomfortable..

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Barbara January 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm

One thing to remember, grammar can also be a style issue. Even when speaking, ain’t that so? :-^

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LA Ferguson January 3, 2013 at 5:42 pm

True dat ;)

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Kathy Sandy January 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I suggest you ask him what level of correction/assistance he would like, and how you should offer it. I disagree with those who say to keep quiet…that only leads to more and more senior managers with poor language skills. Grammar shouldn’t be a lost art, relegated to legal documents. Our language is how we communicate, and dumbing it down has led to too many people with poor language skills. We as admins should be first on the path to correcting the problem, not accepting it. (My boss now watches my eyes and later asks me what was wrong…she can tell there’s been a mistake if my eyes open wider than normal.)

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Cindy Jennings January 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Here is something that has worked for me in many sensitive “coaching” situations. I first say something like, “I’ve noticed something that I think might get in the way of you achieving your goals (getting a promotion, getting noticed by upper mgmt, etc) and I wonder if you’d like for me to share that observation with you?” If they say yes, describe the behavior you’ve observed – careful here – you need to focus on behavior NOT opinion. If they agree that this is an issue, help them uncover resources to help correct the behavior. This could be internal or external to the company. I’ve never had anyone not accept this approach and the relationships stay intact or grow stronger.

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Martha January 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I work with/for 2 doctors and help with a lot of communication. The thing I usually do is take documents back to the doctor with the explanation that “this is what I understand this to mean. Is that what you meant or did I misunderstand?” For our purposes the doctor will usually go with my suggestion since she says if I understand it that way then her ‘audience’ will also.

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Kris January 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm

I worked for boss like that also; his grammer was horrible! I used to correct his letters and send it back to him to “proof” and note that I made some corrections to it. After awhile he started to pick up on the proper grammer and spelling that should be used. When he spoke to me and used bad grammer I would repeat it back using the correct grammer in a way as not to correct him but to confirm I understood what he was saying. I did see some improvment after a while.

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Marty January 3, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I would hope he wouldn’t be offended, but rather thank you for wanting to make him look professional. Are there others in the office that make the same mistakes? If so, you may be able to start a “grammar club” with them in the hopes your boss will pick up on what is happening. Find a way to make it fun so it doesn’t appear to be judgemental.

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LA Ferguson January 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm

As commented above, it does depend on the relationship. I make mistakes sometimes and I have given certain people permission to correct me and all others smile and nod.

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LA Ferguson January 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm

I replied too quickly; obviously my previous comment is dependant on communication. He might appreciate you checking in with him to see how he feels about being corrected. If he feels judged, than he probably won’t learn from the correction so it’s not really worth the discomfort but he might also appreciate it. Try humor… goes a long way in making others feel less judged.

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Julie January 3, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Unless he asks I would not mention it. Hopefully he’s noted the corrections made in the print documents.

I have the opposite problem. The big boss asked the other managers to let me review important documents before they goes out.

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Julie January 3, 2013 at 4:09 pm

aaaarrrrrrgh. That before they GO out. I revised my sentence.

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Stickler Editing January 3, 2013 at 2:57 pm

It would depend on your relationship with your boss and whether you see room to give suggestions and advice or not. But generally people can get quite annoyed with people correcting their grammar all the time! So in most cases, you’d just have to figure out tactful ways to help where you can and otherwise leave it at that and not let it bother you.

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Karen January 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Simple answer? I think he would be offended.
Personally, I would only correct my own children’s grammar.
My only suggestion would be to continue to use correct grammar when speaking with your boss; maybe it will rub off.

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