Do you take corrections well?
January 23, 2017 8:56 AM   Subscribe

What's this thing called where if you correct someone and they turn it around on you. Spelling, grammar, specific details and the like. The response goes something like: "Yeah, I made a minor mistake, you don't have to be such an arsehole about it." The mistake still stands and then the corrector sits unable to really respond to the charges being brought against him. Thanks.
posted by humboldt32 to Human Relations (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
An "ad hominem" attack?
Ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself
Also known as "attacking the messenger"
posted by brainmouse at 8:59 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, if you're correcting a fact that's actually relevant what they're saying (like calling out Trump on his crowd numbers for example) and they dismiss your correction by saying that correcting them in the first place is dick move, while that's somewhere between an Ad Hominem and a Tone Argument.

Of course, on the other hand, if you're just calling out a mistake that is irrelevant to the point they're making, then there's no fallacy being committed and they are just (rightly) pointing out that you're being a dick.
posted by 256 at 9:03 AM on January 23, 2017 [14 favorites]

Are you talking about a name for something like responding to someone's comment online with criticism and having them be critical of your response? I think it'd be helpful there to separate the "spelling, grammar" stuff from the "specific details" stuff in that case because that sounds like a couple of different phenomena:

1. Alice makes a comment, Bob replies with a criticism of spelling or grammar or punctuation or other usage issue.
2. Charlie makes a comment, Desiree replies with a criticism of an assertion or mistake in the facts of the comment.

In the first case, Bob's being a pedant, which is basically always obnoxious; Alice is probably 100% in the right to blow that off as literally nitpicking without engaging substance. I'd call it "blowing off pedantry".

In the second case, Desiree's doing something more like constructive discussion; if Charlie blows that off on the basis that he doesn't like being countermanded, I'd just call that "dodging an argument". It's possible Desiree was also being kind of jerk in how she executed her argument in which case Charlie might have an understandable reason to not want to engage, in which case it's all a bit more muddled.

Is there a more specific example of an exchange you have in mind?
posted by cortex at 9:06 AM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

Acerbic, passive-aggressive pedantry IS always justified if someone makes a spelling or grammar error *while* calling you or someone else stupid or ignorant.
posted by spitbull at 9:17 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll own the pedantic grammar and spelling situations and try to just let those go.

What really bugs me providing a relevant correction and getting the "don't be a dick" response. Is there a way to approach responding to that?
posted by humboldt32 at 9:20 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

This question can't really be answered without knowing the medium, mode, context, and voice of the communication in question.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:25 AM on January 23, 2017 [12 favorites]

"my point is still true, and your defensiveness doesn't change that"
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:30 AM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think the distinction between object-level and meta-level discussion might be useful here, where "object-level" refers to the concrete substance of a claim and meta-level refers to how the claim is made (or the fact that it's made at all).

Meta-level unstated community rules about what sorts of things are OK and not-OK to say, regardless of their factual validity, are pretty much just a universal feature of discourse-- if you've ever visited a contentious thread on the Blue, you've seen this in action. Having a community where the open pursuit of truth in discussion is the most important thing and literally any idea can be stated, substantiated and opened up for civil critique is itself a meta-rule (and a pretty vanishingly rare one both online and off).

Your co-worker may be right or wrong about the meta-level point, but being able to distinguish that clearly and address both issues separately ("I stand by my object-level point, but at the meta-level, when do you think is a legitimate time to voice concerns like these?") is a good starting way to move forward with the interaction.
posted by Bardolph at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2017

Relevance is relative. Sometimes I feel the need to do the world's copyediting because having the right footnotes makes an argument more academic. But if someone tweets that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1777, that's a typo and anyone arguing in good faith is going to know it's a typo. I'm more of a dick for saying "you mean 1776, right?"

If you're correcting something that's key to the argument -- event A preceding event B, then the first thing I'd do (especially in a medium like twitter) is glance at other replies because nine times out of ten, someone has already made that point. And then I'd ask myself whether the sequence of events matters for the point being made. Again, the medium matters -- if it's a news article or long-form blog post, then editing carries more import than a single tweet (or facebook comment, or verbal argument) in a series of statements.

Also, the nature of the response matters. Is it a public response in front of a group, where others are privy to or addressed with the correction when they don't need to be, or a private communication where you politely mention it?
posted by mikeh at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

Context is the key. Do you have the authority to correct someone because you are their supervisor, educator or they have asked you to? If no, you can say "oh, I noticed a couple of typos - would you like me to note them somewhere, or is it maybe not important in this document/to you?" And then do the appropriate.

Otherwise, as irritating as it is, its not your monkey or your circus.

Suppose you do have both the authority and responsibility for pointing out these errors, and they get cranky, maybe try "hey, I know it's frustrating when you don't catch your own mistakes, don't sweat it - that's what another eye is for" up to and including and perhaps beyond ... "your work isn't up to standard. I have to correct it, and I expect you to accept these corrections in a professional manner."

Because as important as it is (and one of my hats is proofreader) it is also unimportant unless it's your responsibility, and if you have no right to be correcting someone, don't do it*, even if they're wrong.

*obviously this doesn't count when being civilly disobedient, but I think that the first case applies - as a citizen you have both the right and the responsibility to correct people in power who make errors.

There are also some work arounds if this is the special hell that is student groupwork.
posted by b33j at 9:35 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

"I was trying to be constructive, sorry if you didn't take it that way".
posted by at at 9:38 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

It really depends on the situation.

On the job, presumably they're your subordinate. You are making the correction because it's your job to do so. That's why you have your job title and they have theirs. You can speak seriously to them about whether or not they are willing to do things the way the company does them.

If it's a private conversation among equals, you wouldn't be "correcting" anyone. You would be providing information or giving your opinion. If they feel defensive or "corrected" that's not due to anything you've done. No need for you to feel pressure to respond in any particular way.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:38 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

You aren't going to get anywhere criticizing people, whether subordinates, peers or bosses. (Think about your own wording -- how would you feel if people tried "correcting" you?) You can fix these things by being positive and helpful. For example, you can offer to edit. It helps to be a little self deprecating about this too, e.g. make a small joke about your weird obsession with spelling or grammatical errors when you offer assistance.
posted by bearwife at 9:46 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

If it's a private conversation among equals, you wouldn't be "correcting" anyone. You would be providing information or giving your opinion. If they feel defensive or "corrected" that's not due to anything you've done. No need for you to feel pressure to respond in any particular way.

It depends. I've had the misfortune of knowing people with a habit of "correcting" informal, colloquial, and spoken conversation, sometimes as a form of class-based aggression. Once in a blue moon, I'll have someone get bitchy when my stutter comes out. As I said, we can't really make a judgement about what's reasonable in this area given the vagueness of the question.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:51 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

So, I guess the context is really on-line interactions, forum discussions for the most part. I don't really experience the same things IRL. I'm not describing work, or supervisorial situations. Factual errors primarily, even minor ones, but still relevant.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:00 AM on January 23, 2017

In that case, correct away. I don't know if there's a formal term for objecting to corrections on a matter of fact.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:02 AM on January 23, 2017

It sounds like you need a concise argument to the effect that getting facts right is important, while acknowledging that social relationships are also important but not to the exclusion of all else.

Maybe something like, "getting the facts right is imporant for us to trust each other" or "I'm saying this because I care" or "If we don't get it right, who will?"

Does this help? I care about your caring, so let me know.
posted by amtho at 10:10 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

amtho, Yes, that's along the lines of how I responded to the one that set me off today.

I feel pretty good about the "correcting" side of the equation, but I struggle with those types of responses, and it hurts me a bit because I feel like I'm coming from a place of good intentions.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:13 AM on January 23, 2017

I write and edit for a living and I never correct people's "spelling, grammar, specific details and the like" unless they're paying me for it.

If I'm talking online with someone and what they're saying is unclear to me, then I will ask for clarification. If they're spouting alternative-fact BS, I'll call them on it. But if they're objectively correct and just saying it imperfectly, then I don't call attention to it at all. To do so is pedantic and arsehole-ish even if you mean well. If you can make sense of it even though it's grammatically wonky, then so can another reader. Etiquette says let it slide; I agree.
posted by headnsouth at 10:18 AM on January 23, 2017 [22 favorites]

"You're not wrong, Walter, you're just an asshole"
posted by praemunire at 10:33 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you are the type of person who gratuitously corrects others' grammar/spelling AND corrects others "minor" factual errors, then I suggest that your best path to happiness is to stop doing any of that. If you are doing both types of correction, then probably the impulse for both types is the same in your head - the impulse to correct for the sake of correcting, or to demonstrate superiority even if that's not what you think you're doing - and you will have better interactions if you just stop.

If you feel that you must correct a factual error, and if you don't want the type of reaction you say you're getting, then work hard in advance to frame the correction in the context of something nice: "I see what you're saying and it's interesting. Just a minor point, and I'm not sure it detracts from what you're saying, though: the blah-blah-blah took place in '47, not '48." Or "Interesting observation! Many people call the phenomenon you're talking about 'asdfadsgfads,' not 'agwdo;viuhasd', so if you google that first term you'll find more interesting stuff about it." Or, if you must and if it's appropriate: "Actually I'm pretty sure that blah-blah-blah took place in '48, and if I'm right about that then you might want to reconsider."
posted by sheldman at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

If this happens a lot it's probably you dude. I mean I'm a pedant too, spelling errors and twisty irrational half-facts give me the jeebies, I probably mouthbreath "well, actually" in my sleep — but it's a crap move to call posters out unless they're fake newsing all over ya. You can listen, lead and gently teach in conversation without hyperfocusing, which to forest-for-the-trees people is so irrelevant it's like you're meticulously counting their freckles while they're telling you about their cancer puppy.

1) How is the OP feeling?
2) What is the OP trying to convey?
3) Does what I have to say add honor these tones?
3) Am I treating this person like a real, feeling person or a heartless net-bot?*
4) Can I say it shorter or sweeter?*

posted by fritillary at 10:41 AM on January 23, 2017 [13 favorites]

* This is a test, don't correct me.
posted by fritillary at 10:42 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

From your writing style in this--I'm not saying you ARE a jerk, but you might want to look at the specific language you're using with people. It seems like you're a person who writes fairly directly and that is, yes, going to be construed poorly in a lot of contexts on the internet. These aren't purely exchanges of information. They're social situations. You might be the sort of person who handles the social niceties better in the "real" world than online, but you can't skip those things online. In a social situation, you can't just be more right than the other people; you have to be right in a way that encourages them to keep engaging with you.

What these people seem to be saying is that they don't actually enjoy talking to you. If you're in a forum kind of situation where everybody is there voluntarily, then yes, them enjoying talking to you matters, and is something you should think about when you're composing these responses. It might be that some things aren't worth correcting. Other things may be worth correcting, but you may need to frame them differently to handle both the social and the factual aspects of the interaction.

Nobody wants to have a conversation with an encyclopedia, no matter how right it is. That doesn't mean accuracy isn't important--only that it isn't the only important thing.
posted by Sequence at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's a really common move for people to make these minor corrections in online conversations specifically to undermine, annoy, or embarrass the other person. Especially if the corrections are spelling/grammar mistakes or other minor details that don't really affect the main thrust of the conversation. Your intentions may be good, but your actions are the same as the kind of person who thinks "ha ha, you used 'your' instead of 'you're' and now I don't have to listen to you," and the person on the other side can't tell the difference. It's not their reaction that's a common and perplexing phenomenon; it's your action.

Pick your battles. Don't bother correcting spelling or grammar. Do correct errors that are fundamental to the main thrust of the conversation, like if everyone's sharing cool bat facts and someone mentions that bats are the only bugs with just two legs. For factual errors that are incidental, use your best judgment, and cushion the correction. Like "I agree that bats are cool. Incidentally, bats aren't bugs. But here's another cool bat fact..."
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:09 AM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

If you only respond to the errors and don't engage with the ideas, you will be seen as an asshole.

If you act as though your correction wins your case and shuts down their argument, you will be seen as an asshole.

If your primary contributions to the conversation/forum are corrections, you will be seen as an asshole.

If you are not friendly and open-minded most or some of the time, you will be seen as an asshole.

If your delivery is harsh, superior, dismissive, sneering, well-actuallying, gotcha-ish, insulting, you might be an asshole.

How to respond? Apologize for coming across as an asshole and explain that the error did not seem minor to you and you were not trying to be petty, but to advance the conversation. Then advance it by getting to your larger point.

How to deal with frequently being called out like this? Honestly evaluate whether it might be on you. If you conclude it is, you can work on that. If it's on them, reconsider the communities/individuals you're engaging with. Also: confront the hypocrisy in correcting what other people say, but hating when others have a negative evaluation of what you say.
posted by kapers at 11:19 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Lately when I've been talking with someone who seems to have been starting from "alternative facts," I will say, "Hey, I wanted to engage on this topic because it interests me. No offense intended. However, if we are going to talk about this, or even argue about it, we're going to need to start with the same definitions and agree on the basic facts. If we can't agree on those, then we can't agree to disagree later."
posted by Pearl928 at 11:32 AM on January 23, 2017

I'm hearing the "It might be you" comments loud and clear. I agree that's quite possibly a part of it. It's something that I will focus on in the future.

And this is definitely not along the lines of "alternative facts". I'm avoiding all of that. Think more along the lines of incorrect travel information.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:34 AM on January 23, 2017

Spelling, grammar, specific details and the like

Very big differences with some of those. The back of my head is is needled by a lot of things – "loose" instead of "lose," say, or "they were very nice to my friend and I" (because you wouldn't say "they were very nice to I") ... oh, tons of stuff. Stuff that I would never ever ever correct the person on, unless they were asking specifically, or we were good friends, and they had expressed a desire to receive corrections on that kind of thing. Specific details might be another story.

If someone says something like, "blah blah blah angry about inequality, but let them eat cake, right?" I'm not going to "well, actually" them that this reference is most likely apocryphal (again, unless we have that kind of relationship in which it's totally cool and probably fun to sidebar that kind of thing). If they make a factual mistake that changes the parameters of the argument, like, I don't know, messed up math that makes something seem more damning than it is, or they misattribute or misquote something in a way that misleads, I'll be more, "I'm seeing where you're going with this, but one quick correction: [person] actually said [thing], not [other thing]. Blah blah continue with the meat of the discussion if possible."

If the mistake does not nullify the thesis of what they are saying, it's usually an asshole move to be AHA! YOU HAVE ERRED ON THIS DETAIL AND THUS YOUR ENTIRE ARGUMENT IS MOOT, GOOD DAY SIR!

(and having said all this, I genuinely totally welcome friendly [or just neutral] corrections myself, because I really don't want to carry on making the same errors. But if it's thrown in just to cheat-win the argument somehow, it's not at all persuasive to me in the "oh, obviously, here is a person of superior intellect; I must cede!" way that I think most people are hoping for when they use this tactic.)
posted by taz at 11:34 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't say, "I limited my correction to your grammar but your people skills are where the real problem lies." Because it might be your own people skills that are insensitive to his defensiveness about feeling stupid or uneducated or whatever. The fact is, you can learn not to have to correct some people.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:47 AM on January 23, 2017

If it is something like incorrect travel information, explain why you're stumped. For example, say, "I was confused about x. I thought y?" That's a dialogue, not a statement that you are right and they are wrong.
posted by bearwife at 11:53 AM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

Think more along the lines of incorrect travel information.

Well, in some people's families, this is less dropping a knowledge bomb or a minor communication detail/derail and more a Reason For Living, and the trigger for at least a couple three hours of debate about taking I90 vs some other combination of highways, streets, bypasses, county roads, lanes, deer paths, ferries, biplanes, and hot air balloons.

But if the other person is sane, you might just say "Sounds good, but, hmm, not sure about [wrong thing]. The info I have is [right thing]."
posted by taz at 12:13 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Think more along the lines of incorrect travel information.

So it's an important error, but perhaps doesn't impact the large picture? Like, they're saying "You have to go for Tuesday afternoon tea at X." And you point out its actually Thursday afternoon?

You could start off by saying "I think it's on Thursday now. But yes, it was great!" That way you're keeping tho conversation focused on the important part.

If the correction didn't lend itself to that kind of layout or your initial response still triggered a strong reaction, sometimes a soft apology and acknowledgement of what was right can move the discussion along. "I'm sorry I sounded abrupt. You're definitely right about X, but Bob can't do that during his trip in two weeks because Y. X is definitely worth another trip though." Or some such formulation.
posted by ghost phoneme at 12:17 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

If the person knows that

- you view them as a worthy and liked individual;

- you know that they are intelligent;

- the messages they deeply care about are getting through to you specifically;

- you are not affecting others' beliefs about them as a person by calling attention to their errors and away from their hard-won wisdom;

- you yourself have enough breadth of understanding to realize the relative importance of your correction in the larger context of the discussion;

then they are more likely to believe
that your correction is:

a) not an act intended to put them in a place lower than you (people do this enough that it's a realistic interpretation), and

b) not a real dilution of the important and immediate communication they are trying to accomplish.

So, learning about the people you are trying to help, and then letting them know, over time, that you do know and like them, is one way to achieve what you are trying to achieve. I think.
posted by amtho at 12:58 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

you can always do what female socialization makes a lot of us do (this is not to assume you never had any, I don't know, but you can always have more!) -- instead of saying 'You said X but Y is the case,' say "I'm not sure about this, but I think Y might be true." or "Somebody told me Y, I wonder if there's a way to double check?" or "I remember telling people X before but then somebody corrected me to Y, I thought he was a dick but he turned out to be right!"

basically any time you have the impulse to say "I know" or just make a declarative statement, change it to "I think" or add a "maybe."

this is not a substitute for picking your battles and knowing your audience, you still have to do that. and it involves a lot of lying and pretending you don't know what you do know and is generally degrading. but it will help.

I offer you this as pure information and not advice.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:26 PM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Rereading the points made, it's also worth taking notice of the entire narrative that is crafted and how the correction relates to the point someone is making. People, no matter how misguided their narratives are, perceive individual corrections as attacks. If you disagree respectfully, give some evidence in your favor, and explain that the facts do not say what they think they say, they might be more likely to listen. Create a different, sympathetic narrative for them to consider.
posted by mikeh at 2:22 PM on January 23, 2017

"I was confused about x. I thought y?"

"Sounds good, but, hmm, not sure about [wrong thing]. The info I have is [right thing]."

Another great thing about phrasings like these is that they act as a check on yourself to make sure you aren't being needlessly pedantic.

If someone talks about crossing the border from Venezuela to Columbia you (hopefully) aren't going to jump in and say "I'm not sure about Columbia. The information I have is that the country next to Venezuela is Colombia." That sounds excruciatingly passive aggressive because there's no actual debate or uncertainty about what the person meant. And the fact that there's no misunderstanding means clarification is unnecessary.
posted by mama casserole at 2:32 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Good comments on being careful you aren't triggering it above, but I know there are some people who just loathe being corrected or given any feedback whatsoever. For some it is willful and conscious and for some it will be deep and beyond their control (borderline personality disorder and others). Once you figure out where you stand you might need to protect yourself and pull back, even incurring a monetary loss or losing an opportunity. It isn't worth it to enter their world of anger and pain.
posted by meepmeow at 4:41 PM on January 23, 2017

As one Formerly Gifted Child(tm) to I suspect another, I say -- being right isn't all it's cracked up to be. I guess my question is, are these errors going to lead people astray enough that they really need to be corrected? Are you in a role where it's your responsibility? What would happen if you let the errors stand? Is it possible other people would jump in or be more careful, where right now you are kind of the quality control that no one really likes?
posted by warriorqueen at 5:02 PM on January 23, 2017

People do not like to be corrected. Private, kind correction from someone they feel respects them is usually okay, anything else is not well tolerated.

If you are correcting something like the spelling of a train station, where everyone else knew what they and one another meant already, then I'm afraid you are probably being a dick. Ultimately people want to communicate online and if they have managed to do so effectively then the spelling etc. doesn't matter. Definitely ask yourself what will happen if nobody corrects the given people - will the outcome be the same? Will someone be early for a flight? Miss a flight? Die? I will be a dick to save a life but not to make a stranger's life slightly more convenient.

If you are correcting the times of trains then "it's 09:56, not 09:59" is a dick move, whereas "it's 09:56, not 06:45" is not so much. But if you are imparting information you don't NEED to correct people.

Tom: Has anyone caught the train from Paris to Berlin?
Dick: I have, it's at 11.50 every day.
You: Yeah I took it a few times. It's at 12:50 Monday to Friday, 13:50 and 15:50 on Saturdays and 11:50 on Sundays. Take a book, it takes ages!

See you can just answer Tom and ignore Dick's wrong info altogether.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:40 PM on January 24, 2017

« Older Yet another relationships question   |   O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Do I Store... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.