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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Providing a Service or Being Rude?

Good Grammar Tuesday Morning!

My question this morning -- when you point out an error to someone privately, are you providing a service or being rude?

For me, alerting someone to a grammar error is the equivalent of saying "Hey! Fly's undone." We'll both be embarrassed for a minute, but hopefully the mistake will be corrected and it will be over. Am I wrong?

And of course, this comes because I sent an email last night alerting someone in the business to a their/there/they're mistake on his/her webpage. (I know in speech I would not worry about mixing "someone" and "their." I have even read that in writing it's OK to lack agreement in number in support of using ambivalent gender, but I just can't quite bring myself to do it in a post critiquing someone else's misuse of "their.")

This morning, YAY! I got a reply from the person. However, it was a half-hearted thanks, and a more strongly worded caution that I should not try to connect with people by pointing out mistakes.

That person may never know how I agonized over that email. The three extra paragraphs I wrote, deleted, re-wrote, deleted -- just to show I was writing it to help. The person admitted to almost deleting my email thinking I was simply trying to sell editing service. Actually, that hadn't crossed my mind. I was thinking that in spite of the error I found, this person had talents I lacked and a good fit might be made. And we live in the same geographic area. But based on the feedback -- I felt like I owed the person an apology; an apology! -- for taking the time to privately let the person know there was a mistake on a page shown to potentially thousands of educators daily. The cheek!
Dude! I'm just covering your butt!
Obviously my opinion is always to be kind and honest. If your fly is undone, I am going to tell you. I won't zip it for you, but I'll let you know, and whether or not you zip is then up to you. I will apologize for embarrassing you. But is the time I took -- which embarrassed me also -- really worse than everyone else who just let you walk around with an open fly?

So I wrote back a sorry/not sorry. Maybe things will be better when we bump into each other at a book event, as is bound to happen. So many things can get lost in the written word, especially online. I'm sure this person is a nice person, just as I am. Maybe one day we will laugh about it.

I don't know. I probably wouldn't point out to a boss during an interview that the email granting me an interview had a typo. I would tell my boss -- because I write and I consider editing a constant part of any job description -- if written items were going out with errors. And were my boss's fly open, I hope I would say something before the interns showed up! This wasn't that. This was an email to a potential colleague that we have talents that could mutually benefit each other. And if nothing else -- for someone to zip his or her fly.

Is there a kinder way to handle such corrections? Because you know me. I can't NOT do it in professional situations. And well aware I am that some will lash out (not that this morning's response was so extreme, but) no matter the level of kindness applied. Embarrassment often leads to anger. But I can learn to be kinder in the process. If there is a process, and if someone will point out my mistake by teaching me how to do it better.

Happy Tuesday, everyone! And welcome back to school, for most!

(Photos are courtesy of MorgueFile.com)