I'm 23. All of my life, I've had a strange need to correct things. It doesn't matter how pointless, mundane, or unimportant something is; I need to correct it. And this isn't a simple habit. If I force myself to keep silent about something I don't agree with (which is very difficult to do), I feel... I guess you could call it 'strained' to burst out and correct it.

This need causes conflict between me and the rest of my family on nearly a daily basis, due largely to me coming across as telling everyone what to do (which is basically what it boils down to). I'd like to know if there's anything I can do to control it (and understand it).

Some examples from today alone:

  • My family is running a garage sale. When we were raising the canopies in the morning, I took issue with how my brother was helping me. Having lived with me for 23 years and being possessed of apparently-supernatural patience, he said nothing and let me exasperatedly direct which pole he was supposed to be raising.
  • After the garage sale, we were settling down to watch a TV show and my highly organized mother went to the garage to count how much money we had made. I made some comments about how she CLEARLY couldn't do it after the show. My intention was sarcastic humor, but she heard, took it the wrong way, and a large argument followed.

How can I learn to just shut up and not be driven to correct everything all the time?

  • 2
    When you correct others, are you usually right (or correct in your judgement)? Sep 10, 2017 at 11:42
  • 25
    On a side note, please consider a career in automated software testing. We need people like you. (Completely serious. Not sarcastic.)
    – user2014
    Sep 10, 2017 at 12:19
  • 1
    @AnneDaunted Yes, otherwise I wouldn't correct them. Sep 10, 2017 at 15:22
  • 5
    "I made some comments about how she CLEARLY couldn't do it after the show. My intention was sarcastic humor, but she heard, took it the wrong way, and a large argument followed." - or maybe she took it as sarcastic humour, and did not appreciate it...
    – HorusKol
    Sep 11, 2017 at 1:19
  • 5
    Sarcasm actually means "language intended to cause pain." Just wanted to correct you on that. Nov 13, 2017 at 5:22

5 Answers 5


How can I learn to just shut up and not be driven to correct everything all the time?

A willingness to correct others is not wrong an sich, but it becomes very annoying very quickly when done wrong. If you can manage to learn how to do it right, it turns into leadership. Being a leader is good, being an insufferable know-it-all is bad. What I'm seeing from the examples in your question, is somebody who is honestly trying to help but just lacking a bit of tact for doing it right.

Shutting up when something is bothering you, can be one of the most difficult things to do. What helped me was having good guidance during my early childhood, my mom and dad corrected my behaviour often. What they taught me was:

  • It's okay to correct somebody, but only if the correction isn't over something minor. Being corrected often results in an amount of embarrassment for the person being corrected. Think before you speak is a hard thing to do, but really the only way to learn to shut up when necessary.
    • If I correct this mistake, will I only embarrass the other person, or is he/she e.g. doing something that can result in danger when not corrected?
    • Do we really need this canopy to be up as soon as possible, or can we just take the time and have fun doing it?
  • Mind how you phrase your correction. For your first example, the garage sale, you shouldn't order your brother around, but it's better to ask this. If there really was a time pressure on raising the canopy, instead of saying "Do this, do that", you actually ask something like:

    Hey [brother], I think we can get this done a lot quicker if you started on that pole, while I do this one. Shall we give it a try?

  • You don't have to correct somebody right away, especially not in public. Sometimes, it is better to later offer a correction privately. You might be surprised, that in some cases the other person has already realised their mistake. Correcting later has 2 advantages: you are not humiliating the person in public, and you are possibly saving them from more embarrassment later on.
  • Don't be offended when somebody doesn't want to be corrected. Don't take that personal. If your correction was offered in a humble, sincere way, there is nothing you could have done better and the other person just needs to learn on their own. Maybe they will realise later that you were right all along. Then it is important to remain humble. No saying "I told you so!".

As for the situation with your mom, this is a classic example of 'how to phrase your correction'. Don't use sarcastic humour to try and correct somebody. It may be seen as making a joke at the others expense. If you want to address this in public, it's better to ask something like:

But mom, we are all ready to start watching the show. Can you do it after the show, so we won't have to wait for it now?

Making it a question already makes it feel a lot less like a correction, but more like a concern from your part. If your mom says no, well, she is still your mom, so at that point, you just give in. You settle down on the couch, and wait until she is back from counting the money. Since wanting to count money before starting to watch a show is not a life-threatening behaviour, just leave her to do so. There's no need to start an argument over it.


How to overcome a severely chronic case of pedantry?

Answer(and not an easy one to do): You have to internalize that being precise and technically correct about things is only of limited value. You need to find a way to be okay about things that are "wrong" but "close enough". Human life is messy.

It isn't really the speaking up that you do that is "the problem". It is merely a symptom.

You "know" how things should go. When you see others being imprecise, you want to "help" them by telling them how to do it correctly. Your help annoys them. Can't they see you are trying to help?

I'm going to say the following thing twice:

You're intent doesn't matter.

You're intent doesn't matter.

(Yes. I know it is "your". I picked "you're" to make a point here.)

But isn't it the thought that counts? That's what we've been told.

Nope. The perception of the other person is the message that is received. Maybe your mother had an anxiety that could only be assuaged by counting the money. Perhaps she would not have been able to enjoy the TV show without knowing this. Maybe thoughts about it would be circling her brain over and over until she went and checked.

I used to correct people's grammar, chiefly by saying "-ly" when someone used an adjective as an adverb. I figured people wanted to use English correctly, and so I was helping. Everyone was just annoyed, because I was being deliberately technical and I should "know what they meant", and they felt I was "calling them dumb".

And you know what? That is precisely what I was doing, because they perceived it that way. No, it wasn't my intent, but as I've said... that doesn't matter.

I've switch my perception, because you know what? The very existence of adverbs in a language is silly. What is the difference if a person says "I am doing good" or "I am doing well"? Can I determine the same meaning from either? Yes. Did communication take place? Yes. Is that good enough? Yes.

  • I'd like to disagree, I personally think that, in any context, intent do matter. If we did not give any importance in the intent behind the action of a person, then that means that we would all be free of taking everything out of context, to suit our needs, because what they meant when they said X things would not matter anymore, the only thing that would matter is "how we took it".
    – user3399
    Sep 12, 2017 at 7:11
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    Intent matters until you are informed that your actions/words are not coming across as intended. If your friend tells you that correcting their grammar constantly makes them feel that you are being petty and calling them stupid, and you continue to do so regardless, then your intent no longer matters because you know the effect isn't 'helping' or whatever your initial intent was. The same goes if you use sarcastic humor to 'lightly' make a point to your mother and learn that it offends her when you do that. Continuing to offend her while saying 'that wasn't my intent' just makes you a jerk.
    – user61524
    May 21, 2018 at 6:40
  • Great example about "You're intent doesn't matter". Almost made me edit. Jul 7, 2018 at 1:53

Being around an insufferable know-it-all is one of the most annoying things to ever experience. And, trust me, I used to be one myself...

A few years ago, I used to act like I knew everything (something that commonly happens to most teens...) and used to correct every minor mistake in each and every person's business, which usually didn't even concern me. If anyone made any mistake, I would feel like "Oh my God, that guy's got his basics wrong... I gotta correct him before he goes and ruins his reputation". I was too concerned with other people and the "correctness of things"...

With time, my friends began to desert me, and I began to ask myself, what was I doing wrong?

By asking a few friends and my parents, I realised that the only mistake I was making was that I was correcting other people's mistakes...

I decided to change myself. Now the big question: How?

That answer also came to me soon enough. I realised that if constantly correcting other people (due to me caring too much about them and the correctness of things), I was alienating them from me, then perhaps, if I cared a little less, and corrected them only when it was absolutely necessary, maybe, just maybe, they would realise the significance of my telling them?

Two years down the line, I became the head boy of my school, because my classmates and my teachers had voted me in. Turns out, caring less actually appears as caring more to most people, and caring too much is generally perceived as a person trying to embarrass others...

I'm just sharing an experience here, not really a formal 'answer', so I hope this is useful for you :)

  • 3
    I don't think it's a question of caring less, it's knowing when to intervene when to let go of things. If in a day a teacher corrects a student ten times a day that gets a bit wearisome, but if that correction is limited to once a day, or once every two days the correction itself becomes more memorable and significant. Obviously, huge errors must never be ignored
    – user3114
    Sep 10, 2017 at 16:21

I don't know if this will work for you. But for a young person who had very rigid right-and-wrong-way-to-do-things opinions, a piece of paper and a pencil in the pocket cured it. When someone does something wrong, make a note of it. Tell yourself you will discuss it with them later, when no-one else is around or when the emotion or pressure of the situation is lower. Tell yourself you will run it by a trusted advisor before raising it with the person who "did it wrong." Let them do it wrong, and make a note.

You may find that within minutes you can happily throw the note away. You may find it useful to run through a pocketful of notes with a trusted friend or parent. You may end up using the notes to extract your real issue, your reason for needing to correct them and believing they were wrong. Imagine telling someone simply and honestly "I felt unimportant when instead of watching a show I was looking forward to as a reward for a day's work, I had to wait for you when you decided there was still some work left in the day. It made me tense. I felt I couldn't control my opportunity to relax." That's useful insight anyone who shares a home with you would be happy to hear. Of course, you may realize as you formulate the sentence that your conclusion "my part of the garage sale is done! Let's all relax!" may be the problem, and asking her to postpone her last piece (to not be done yet) may have been harder on her than waiting on the tv show was for you. But that's a different conversation.


Find a job where your character is an asset instead of a burden: I have a similar character, that was also annoying for other people. Now I'm working as a software programmer and tester, every bit must be correct, and this fits exactly with my error-detecting and error-solving character.

  • 2
    But can you turn it off when hanging out with friends and family?
    – Kris
    Sep 11, 2017 at 21:36
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    That's exactly the whole deal: before I had such a job I wanted to correct all things around me, which was annoying for my family. Once I had a job where I could correct things, that part of my character was satisfied and I was more relaxed in daily life.
    – Dominique
    Sep 12, 2017 at 8:06
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    Oh I see. The job gave you an appropriate outlet for the compulsion to perfect your surroundings .
    – Kris
    Sep 12, 2017 at 15:19
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    Any suggestions for OP if getting that kind of job is not an option?
    – Kris
    Sep 12, 2017 at 15:25
  • @Thomas: in what area are you working/willing to work?
    – Dominique
    Sep 13, 2017 at 13:12

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