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Being right isn’t always right

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in Business Etiquette,Workplace Communication

Shortly after sending out my monthly e-zine, I received an email from an executive assistant. “When I read your most recent email, I wondered if it was a test to see if we could find all the errors—grammatical as well as typographical. I was floored and hope that maybe it just left you’re desk inadvertently with no proofreading.”

I had a moment of wanting to highlight the typo in her email (you’re should be your) and say, “Looks like we’re all human!” Yet the only reason I would take that action is to be right. I chose to reach out and graciously thank her for bringing the errors to my attention.

If the need to be right drives you, it’s often because it was modeled growing up. I encourage you to take a different approach. As Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

Here’s a system for tactfully sharing information without coming across as a know-it-all or belittling a colleague or supervisor. I’ll use examples from municipal clerks I interviewed.

Awareness: When a mayor proposed instituting a new policy that the clerk knew was illegal, rather than point a finger and humiliate him, the clerk said, “Are you aware that the statute requires (x, y, z)?”  In your own workplace, when you hear a co-worker impart information that you know to be wrong, try, “I was led to believe (x). How does that fit with your information?” Your tone is important. You want to create connection.

Advise: The municipal clerk then advised the mayor, “I know the direction you were trying to take. Here are some options you may want to consider.”  

Ask: “Knowing what the statute says, and weighing these alternatives, how would you like to move forward?” The clerk’s phraseology allowed the mayor to make a well-informed decision.

There are times to take a mature approach and choose to keep quiet. If you find you’re still compelled to be right, perhaps it’s time to look for other ways to get the recognition and kudos you’re craving.

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