I was at the pool recently with my son when a stranger tapped me on the shoulder. “Your bathing suit top is on backwards,” she said. Embarrassed, I hurried to the restroom and put the suit on correctly. Was I glad this woman I didn’t know pointed out my mistake? Not particularly. I was actually a tad annoyed because she’d made me feel insecure. And who did she think she was, anyway?
Then there’s the time that I sent out pre-printed holiday cards and a casual friend asked if I knew that there was a typo on the card. I didn’t understand his need to point this out – if I knew about the error, then surely I was already feeling badly about it. If I didn’t know, then his alerting me to the typo wasn’t going to change the fact that the cards already went out and there was nothing I could do about it.
I believe that the only people with whom you are entitled to proactively bring up mistakes or flaws are your immediate family members, your best friends, and your direct reports. Everyone can improve, this is true, but these are the individuals who will most appreciate and value your desire to help them in that capacity. These are the individuals who can have a sense of humor about minor criticisms and take them in the spirit in which they are offered.
In work situations, you risk alienating colleagues and/or managers when you point out their mistakes or flaws. For example, suppose your office-mate stutters a lot in group meetings. Should you bring it up to him? In my opinion, the answer is no. He probably can’t control his stuttering, and as tactful as you think you’re being, you’ll probably still hurt his feelings. If his manager wants to address it, that’s her prerogative.
It’s not your responsibility to ensure perfect conduct the part of your colleagues, so even if you have an obsessive attention to detail or feel morally outraged about an issue, let it go. Unless your action can keep a grievous mistake from occurring in the first place, it’s not worth the potential damage to your reputation.
I sense that some of you might find fault with this point of view. So let’s open the forum – what do you think?
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