Steen mug shot


“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The messaged popped up on my screen, “Shouldn’t it say its?” I scrolled through everything I had shared that day on social media, and there it was. I was typing on my phone, and it sometimes changes what I’m writing. I thought I had typed its entirety, but the phone added an apostrophe to its, which was incorrect. 

I’ve had people call me out in front of others about mistakes I’ve made, and I’ve had quiet corrections like this — meant to help me, not to shame me. My friend knew how much it would matter to me that I used the correct words. I was grateful and not offended. It matters that we not take things so personally that we, as Emerson suggested, believe we are persecuted when we are contradicted.

My husband and I are very different. He is warm, caring and logical. I am warm, caring and super sensitive. I asked him, “How do you feel when people correct you?” It probably felt like a loaded question, as if I might be following it up with how he could do some task better, but it wasn’t. I wondered how he might respond to correction or contradiction differently than I. 

He admitted that it would depend on who was doing the correcting because intention would come into play, but that in the end he always tries to explain how he came to the conclusion he did that they have contradicted. Yes, he is the logical one of the two of us, and I’ve worked hard to become more like him.

Remembering that I am a sensitive person, it shouldn’t surprise you that I have struggled with being corrected. It can feel so personal, after all. A few years ago, though, I read (and have reported in my writing several times) The Four Agreements, by don Miguel Ruiz, and then I read it again, and again. He spends a fair amount of time discussing the agreement of not taking things personally, and I am kind of amazed to see how I’ve grown. I am not where I would like to be, but I’m so much better than I was.

Correction: a change that rectifies an error or inaccuracy.

Is your first thought when someone corrects you, “But I wasn’t wrong?” It makes me laugh to think of how badly I have wanted to never be considered inaccurate (wrong) in the past, and how beneficial it has been since I began letting my errors be acceptable. I write. I work hard to catch any mistakes, but I’m sure they get past me every now and then (thank goodness for a good editor). 

I take pictures, and I receive feedback each week from other photographers who see what I could have done differently. I am sad when no one offers a critique. How far I have come that I hope for correction.

You will sometimes be corrected and sometimes be in a position to do the correcting.

Take a lesson from my friend, and never humiliate the other person. That’s the most important rule I can think of, but I consulted some other sources in hopes of offering more helpful and meaningful direction.

  • Sandwich your sentiments. Offer a positive thought before you share your correction, and then finish up with another kind word or compliment. “I love that you are willing to help with the laundry. It will probably be wrinkled if you don’t fold it, but thanks so much for helping me.”
  • Use a kind tone of voice. Are you at work and it’s important for the success of a project that you offer correction? You could be blunt, but you will be more effective and more accepted if you approach it carefully. “That’s an easy thing to overlook,” will be much better received than, “I can’t believe you missed that!”
  • Offer your own shortcomings as an example. “I remember when I was learning to do that, and I ran into a problem with such and such. Have you experienced that?”

What if you are on the receiving end of a (not so gentle) correction? The not so gentle corrections are especially difficult to take, but can be quickly shut down by your owning the error. What more can a person say after belittling you if you respond with, “Oh, wow, you’re right, I must not have been thinking clearly.” 

The tendency most of us have is to deny our error because we feel ashamed. Don’t. Don’t deny your mistake, and don’t allow someone to shame you.

  • You are told, “I can’t believe you pronounce it that way. That’s just stupid.” Instead of knocking the person upside the head, you might be more effective to teach them a better way. “Gosh, I’m glad you told me how to say that. Did you always know, or did someone have to tell you, too?”
  • You are told, “How many times do I have to tell you that’s not the way we do things here?” You might choose to respond with something sarcastic, but it will only feel good for a minute and won’t help the situation. A great response might be, “Apparently, more times than you think you should. I’ll really try to pay more attention to what I’m doing.”
  • No matter how gently or not so gently you are admonished, you have a responsibility to correct yourself. As Confucius said, If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake. You don’t have to wait for someone else to catch your mistakes, you can catch and correct them yourself.

We will all be in a better place if we do not assume others make mistakes on purpose nor do they correct us to make us feel badly. Assume the best of people and you’ll usually find the best is there.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

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