We all know that person: The one who can never seem to bite his tongue. He feels an overwhelming urge to speak up with a correction, no matter how unimportant or minuscule it might be.
You could say, “Wow, the sky sure is blue today,” and he would immediately clear his throat and respond with, “Actually, I think the right word for that would be teal.” It really doesn’t matter what exactly you say–that person is going to chime in with his or her two cents regardless.
You know that guy, right? And, chances are, you find him completely obnoxious. So, understandably, you’d like to do everything you possibly can to avoid being just like him.
Typically, that’s pretty simple. But then those circumstances arise that make things just a little bit trickier. Perhaps your boss keeps referencing a wrong statistic during a team meeting. Or maybe one of your coworkers is misunderstanding a guideline for a project she’s working on.
You don’t want to interrupt, cut that person off, and seem like a condescending know-it-all. But is that worse than letting someone move forward with incorrect information?
Knowing when to voice a correction and when to keep your lips zipped can be a challenge. So, in those moments when you’re deciding between the two, consider these four questions. They should help you choose your best course of action–and help you avoid coming off like “that guy.”
There’s more than one way to do anything. And, just because someone isn’t doing something the exact same way you would do it doesn’t give you a free pass to speak up and attempt to right the ship.
So before chiming in, ask yourself if you’re planning on sharing an actual fact or just your opinion on a certain matter. If you’re attempting to set the record straight on an incorrect number or the proper pronunciation of your name, for example, you’re definitely justified in offering a correction.
But, if you’re only going to step up on your soapbox and enlighten everybody with your personal insights and judgments, you’re usually better off biting your tongue.
Riddle me this: Do you want your plumber passing along advice to a brain surgeon? Probably not. Now, if you needed to fix a leaky sink or a toilet that won’t stop running, the plumber would likely be the first person you look to for advice and guidance. But, that doesn’t mean you’re going to trust her wisdom on absolutely everything–particularly things that are outside her area of expertise.
It’s human nature: We’re much more inclined to listen to advice and criticism (not to mention respect it) from people who seem to have some authority and credibility in that particular area.
So, press pause to go ahead and ask yourself whether or not you have some real valuable insight to offer. In those cases, it’s usually worth voicing your thoughts. But, if you’re only speaking up to hear the sound of your own voice and appear involved, well, you already know it’s in your best interest to stay mum.
In a similar vein, you’ll want to give some thought to whether or not a situation actually concerns you. Does it directly relate to your job or your work? Or is it something way out on the periphery that actually has very little to do with you?
Of course, there will be those instances when you need to speak up about issues that aren’t immediately tied to you. However, in most cases, you’re better off reserving your criticisms and directions for things that directly concern you or your department.
After all, it’s important to remember that if an issue doesn’t immediately involve you, you might be out of the loop on a lot of the important details–making you all too likely to voice an irrelevant correction without having all of the necessary background information. That approach just makes you look like the nosy coworker who’s sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.
Finally, here’s the biggest–and perhaps most important–question you’ll want to ask yourself when choosing between speaking up and shutting up with your correction: What’s the worst-case scenario if you keep your mouth shut?
If it’s something small that ultimately has little to no effect, there’s really no problem with keeping your correction to yourself. Believe it or not, nobody else will likely care that Suzanne used Heading Two when she should’ve used the Heading Three style for the subheads in that monthly report.
But, if it’s something major–such as a big miscommunication about a client’s needs or the fact that Jason’s about to burn down the entire break room because he left the coffee pot on–it’s probably best that you do what you need to do to raise awareness and resolve the issue. When in doubt, weigh the outcomes. That should give you a pretty clear idea of your best course of action.
Nobody wants to be that obnoxious know-it-all who’s always ready and waiting to jump in with his unprompted two cents. But at the same time, you don’t want to be the person who allows big problems and errors to just slip by under the radar.
Knowing when to offer a correction and when to bite your tongue isn’t always easy. However, asking yourself these four questions should take some stress out of the decision–and help you hang on to your suggestions for those situations when they’ll really carry some weight.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.