Correcting People’s Mistakes

I have an involuntary urge to jump in and correct people when I notice errors in what they say. It hasn’t escaped my notice that this often irritates the person I correct, but I have a hard time checking the impulse.

I’m not sure whether the cause of this is pedantry, perfectionism or simply attention to detail. Too much attention to detail sometimes because I end up getting distracted from the conversation by concentrating on the mistake. Interrupting the speaker to correct them also tends to distract them from what they were saying, halting the conversation.

Thing is… I’m trying to be helpful when I correct people. Accuracy is important to me – more important than saving somebody’s feelings – and I subconsciously expect that other people feel the same and would appreciate my efforts. Publicly correcting people can engender a hostile response – it embarrasses them, triggering a defensive reaction. In conjunction with my social anxiety, fear of this kind of response prevents me from speaking up in front of strangers. But it doesn’t prevent me feeling very uncomfortable about the error.

It’s the same with errors in writing – things like shop signs that might have spelling or grammatical mistakes. I have been known to take a pen and make editorial corrections to notices – the urge to do so can be impossible to suppress.

I find that people mistake my motivation – while I only strive for accuracy, they see me as a know-all who wants appear superior. They may even see me as arrogant. For the record, I’m not trying to impress people with my knowledge or make them appear ignorant and stupid. I just have an obsession for precision in language.

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5 thoughts on “Correcting People’s Mistakes

  1. I know exactly what this is like. My motivation for correcting finally started to fall when I corrected someone who always wrote "than" in place of "then", and his response was that he didn't care if he made the mistake.Add on a few more instances of people saying they don't care if they say/write something wrong, and my desire to correct plummeted.The worst for me is when someone says something with the opposite meaning of what they intend to say. I end up misunderstanding them until what they say becomes confusingly opposite of what they just said, at which point I have to go back and reevaluate what they said to determine if they said the opposite of what they meant. By then I'm not hearing what's being said, and end up lost in the conversation!

  2. Hi Chris. I find my motivation to correct is unaffected by the people's reactions – it's compulsive behavior for me. I can sometimes consciously stop myself if I realize in time that I'm about to do it… but then I slip by saying "I was going to say [some correction]" and do it anyway. Irritates the heck out of my wife!

  3. I'm beginning to think that the man I've been dating for 3.5 months has Aspergers. He has many of the symptoms, although they aren't obvious. He, too, blurts out corrections. He told me that he restrains himself from correcting people many times a day. He didn't correct me until he was sick recently, and so not in such a good humor.The thing with him, though, is that most of the time he corrects me, he's actually incorrect, while I am correct. Once he finds out he's incorrect, he admits his mistake quite freely. What do you make of that?

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