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How often do you correct others when they say something that is inaccurate?

For example I recently corrected someone when they kept referring to a forward slash as a backslash. He made the reference several times so I knew it wasn't a slip of the tongue. Furthermore, I wasn't trying to "Display my vast knowledge" I just thought he might like to know.

A couple of guys here write code in VB.NET, for some reason the non technical people in charge got the term VBN or VBN.NET in their heads and no one corrected them. So now thats what they call it. Everyone here knows what they mean when they say VBN though, so I guess theres no real harm.

I personally love to learn so I gladly welcome most corrections, so I can learn whats right.

I feel like other people just get annoyed when corrected.

Should some fallacies be left alone or is it always OK to simply say:

Actually its called VB.NET, I think maybe you were confusing it with VPN.

Or am I just being pedantic?

Correcting mistakes in someones code is always fine, but are there any guidelines to correcting people outside of code reviews?

Are there different rules I should follow in correcting Technical vs Non Technical people?

I don't want to be an information hoarder, but I don't want to be an annoying pedant either.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by durron597, Snowman, jwenting, gnat, MichaelT May 12 at 0:33

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Also, it's "other's". Not to be picky. –  S.Lott May 26 '11 at 17:23
@S.Lott: I believe it's "others'" –  Steve Evers May 26 '11 at 17:32
@SnOrfus: The question would be singular vs. plural, then, isn't it? Do we know from the question? –  S.Lott May 26 '11 at 17:36
@S.Lott - I don't know if that's what @back2dos is saying, but that is accurate. In this case, others is a plural form based on context. It seems silly to imply that there is only one other making the "mistakes". Since it's also possessive, it would end up being others'. –  Joel Etherton May 26 '11 at 18:03
It's either "another's" or "others'", depending on whether you want singular or plural form. –  Jordan May 26 '11 at 20:05

8 Answers 8

up vote 11 down vote accepted

For me, it's all about the way you do it.

See Sheldon's behaviour in any episode of Big Bang Theory for a great example of what NOT to do when correcting people.

I've found these techniques to be useful:

  • Feigning confusion - e.g. What do you mean by VBN? Oh, VB.NET? I've never heard it called that. (even though I do know exactly what they mean.)
  • Humour - e.g. VBN? The Veterinarians with Bulimic Neuroses? What do they have to do with this?
  • Good-natured mocking - e.g. VBN? What the hell are you talking about you bloody idiot? (ok, that may be a less good-natured phrasing..)

Other important points:

  • Don't make anyone cry (especially if you choose the latter technique). If you have a bad track record of accidentally offending people (again, see Sheldon) don't attempt it.
  • Don't correct someone too often (how often is too often? Check for signs of annoyance). It can be frustrating and interrupts the natural flow of conversations/information transfer
  • Don't correct anyone in front of other people. It can be humiliating and lead to resentment.
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+1: I usually opt for #1, with a little #3 using bullet 3. In an e-mail: Dude... WTF is VBN supposed to mean? –  Steve Evers May 27 '11 at 0:53

I find it helpful to ask why they're saying something that appears wrong.

Sometimes, there really is something to learn.

Other times, they can't explain it, and you can more easily provide a correction.

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If they can't explain it...they may be put off by that and may feel like you're trying to call them out. –  Aaron McIver May 26 '11 at 18:08
@Aaron: While true, I've found it helpful. Some folks get defensive no matter what you say or ask. –  S.Lott May 26 '11 at 18:12

You've already gotten some excellent suggestions, but I'd add one more that strikes me as important. Pick your battles -- do your best to restrict yourself to correcting points that really need correction. When a term is misused in a way that's likely to lead to real ambiguity or misunderstanding, be polite about it, but do your best to be sure it gets corrected. Likewise, if the term is being abused by (for example) a salesperson so the misuse is likely to make your entire company look like ignorant buffoons, try to get it corrected.

If, however, the misuse is internal and correcting it will basically do little other than trade your being less annoyed for everybody else probably being a bit annoyed, chances are pretty good that it's better to shut up about it. Stick to the more subtle approaches, such as just using the term correctly as often as reasonable. Along with that, you could (for example) leave books with the correct spelling laying around in the open to (again, subtly) emphasize the correct usage/spelling.

The point is, I'd try to save corrections for when they're needed. You don't want a reputation for being consumed with irrelevant details or being sure you're always right and everybody else is always wrong.

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It's all about presentation and delivery.

The same sentence can be said in a myriad of different ways of which many will come off as pompous.

Your example is a good one...

Actually its called VB.NET, I think maybe you were confusing it with VPN

That can be conveyed in so many ways there is no point in discussing that here.

What should be noted is that the key to not putting technical and non-technical individuals off is the delivery. The unfortunate reality is that verbal delivery is a skill which must be honed by some and is a gift at birth for others; which bucket you fall in can sometimes in and of itself be the first step to successful delivery.

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+1 it's all about the delivery, to get the message across without putting down the other person. Unfortunately, it's not always that easy... –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner May 26 '11 at 17:45

It depends on a situation. Sometimes a minor inaccuracy doesn't change the whole point, and is not worth mentioning. For example, when somebody makes a factual mistake while telling a joke. On the other hand, I would definitely question politely something that occurs repeatedly, and is really puzzling (eg. the VBN.NET example).

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Well, one solution is trying to be respectful and make clear you want to help, but that's not always easy. Also it's often too much of an effort.

An easier way is to actually be pedantic, with the right amount of self irony.

Either way should make clear to your interlocutor, that you don't consider them inferior or want to abase them, but really just want to point out a mistake, for their own good or your hypersensitivity to inaccuracy.

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In every industry there is jargon for a reason. It is to communicate more effectively. SEMANTICS is very important in industry jargon.

For example: In the computer industry; {} are braces, [] are brackets, () are parenthesis. There was someone on stackoverflow insisting that () were called brackets. Because in their little island country, the general population called them brackets. When the international community that defined Unicode, they named all the symbols, guess what they named () thats right, parenthesis.

Localized jargon, inside your company isn't helping communication, and should be politely corrected. Because next time one of your non-technical sales or marketing people uses a term incorrectly to someone outside the company, it will make them and the company look ignorant at best and incompetent at worst.

VB.NET exists at a industry accepted term to differentiate from VB that doesn't use the .Net framework. You are correct that VBN and VBN.NET doesn't mean either of those things.

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Never be rude about it. If you're not sure what they're saying, ask for clarity. I would rather be corrected than go into a more formal situation and do something incorrectly and embarrass myself.

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