I remember the jolt I received even though it was so many years ago. I was reading Dale Carnegie’s timeless classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People for the very first time and he told a story on himself.
In summary, while at a banquet, Mr. Carnegie corrected a statement made by another guest about something trivial. Dale’s friend, sitting next to him, over-rode his correction, stating that the person was actually correct.
Later, when Dale asked his friend — whom he was certain knew better — why he did that, he received an admonishment. Paraphrased, it was, “why prove to someone that they are wrong? Why not let him save face?”
It jolted me because I often did that very same thing. It was as though I couldn’t resist pointing out someone’s error, even something harmless and trivial. (Thereby, of course, highlighting my superior knowledge.) And, while no good was accomplished, it embarrassed the other person (often in front of others) and caused resentment towards me.
Now, you might be thinking, “But, Bob, is it right to not correct when you know something is factually incorrect?” And, my response would be that it depends upon the context of the situation. For example: is it important enough that it needs to be corrected? Is there a benefit to doing it? Would it be more helpful or harmful to do so? Will it shame the person or be well received?
Example: Someone says, “Yes, that Ted Williams was the best. Last guy to hit .406. Way back in 1940.”
The truth is that it was in 1941. My suggestion is that — whether to correct the person or not depends upon the above questions. If it’s a discussion between two friends, of course, correct. If not, and/or it would embarrass them publicly, don’t. Should you tell them later? It depends? Probably no harm in doing so. You could even use one of the lead-in phrases such as, “I might be wrong about this”…and then continue with, “I’m thinking it might have been in ’41.”
What will happen is that — if he or she really cares enough to know the truth — they will check.
Yes, this is a very minor example. Yet, how often have you seen people correct others publicly as described above, doing more harm than good? Ever? Have you ever done that? Has someone ever done that to you? How did you feel about it…and, about them?
Again, each situation is different. But, when in doubt, best that if you’re going to be right, that it not be at someone else’s expense.