Picture it: You’re in an important meeting at work and a colleague, or maybe your boss, says something that isn’t entirely factual. I’m not talking about lying intentionally to cover something up. I’m talking about that colleague who believes they are correct, but aren’t. What do you do? What is your reaction?
If you’ve followed my blog for any period of time, you’ll know that I am an advocate for Alzheimer’s research and care for those impacted. I was recently watching an interview with Dr. Gayatri Devi, an expert on the care of Alzheimer’s patients, and she was describing how caregivers and family members can best interact with these patients. Often, family members correct the many mistakes Alzheimer’s patients make in an attempt to “help” them remember. The doctor challenged families and caregivers to let many of the errors pass without notice. She said, “Allow someone the comfort of their error.”
This made me pause for a couple reasons. My grandmother suffered from this disease for years before she passed, and we quickly learned there was not always value in correcting her when she made an error. The temptation to correct someone when they do or say something we know to be incorrect is strong. However, correcting in some situations can be humiliating for the person. It also may not add value to the overall conversation or outcome, so it is not necessary.
It struck me~ this approach of allowing someone the comfort of their error should apply to all of us.
I admit that over the years, I’ve been tempted to correct people who are not accurate. But in most situations, I let the urge pass. There are times, like when the error is directly related to the meeting at hand, when you’ll need to speak up. When circumstances are such that you must interject, there are a few tips to guide your approach.
- Make the “offender” part of your solution- One technique I use that works is including the person who made the error in my “solution” statement. For example, if you’re in a meeting and Joe misstates data about your sales results, you could reply that you happened to get an update right before the meeting and that what you’re about to share is additive to what Joe stated.
- Correct gently and provide data to back it up– This approach is trickier because it is easier for the person to feel attacked. Again, saying that there is a new report or updated data is a way to make the correction without humiliating the person who misstated in the first place.
- Ask a question and insert the correct answer- I find this tactic works well and also allows the person to save face.
- Ask for clarification– In this approach, you become the person who is stating they may not be “in the know”. It depends on the situation, but allows the speaker to share data to back up their position. If he/she cannot, then default to one of the other approaches and share your correct data.
In the end, you have to judge the importance of the error. Is it what the meeting is about? Is it ancillary? How important is the error to the overall business objectives? By asking yourself these questions and taking time to pause and consider your approach, you may find that most times you let an error slide. After all, wouldn’t you want someone to grant you that grace?
How have you handled this in your career? I’d love to hear your ideas and stories in the comments.