“Please excuse any grammatical errors, sent from my mobile device.”
This is from an actual email message that I received and yes, the message contained within it a grammatical error. It virtually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: I will be making errors, so please look the other way; it’s something else’s fault, not mine.
And this message is not uncommon, as I see many people begging forgiveness for spelling errors and other typos as we race to adapt to surges of adrenaline and an ever-changing array of mobile devices. Even spell check sometimes turns against us. For instance, I once prepared a layoff announcement that contained assurances that the company would provide severance for three months.
I swear that’s what I wrote, but somehow the communication that what was printed and widely disseminated was that severance would be provided for three monks. I spent the remainder of my day fielding calls from people laughing and asking questions about the monks selected to receive severance.
Perhaps I should have added the following disclaimer to the announcement: Please excuse any typos; sometimes our good intentions are trumped by spell check.
I don’t begrudge the preemptory apology like the one sent from my friend’s mobile device. In fact, I admire it. Personally, it makes me wonder if, at least on some days, I might benefit from wearing a sign around my neck that says something to the effect:
Please excuse the following hurts and misunderstandings that might be caused today by the tone of my voice, the rolling of my eyes, or the jarring choice of my words. I particularly ask that you overlook these errors in times when I am under stress or otherwise momentarily distracted and seemingly insensitive to your feelings or those of others. . . . It’s not my fault, I ’m just very busy.
While I would never take it to this extreme . . . not consciously anyway, it is humbling to acknowledge that there are times when I, and I would guess all of us, convey messages in the heat of the moment that we do not intend. We make mistakes; more will be made in the future. But to ask everyone around us who might be impacted by our mistakes to disregard them is in nearly every instance asking too much.
Where I think we get into trouble is thinking that “little things” like spelling, grammar, decimal points – and making eye contact, listening, greeting people, telling the truth even when it’s uncomfortable – don’t matter. Having recently been charged $2,750 for a cup of drip coffee, I assure you that things as small as a decimal point do matter.
Trying to convince people that their feelings don’t matter, particularly in the face of our own anxiety and frustration or busyness, is absurd. Feelings matter; they matter a lot. And as I am frequently reminded by a wonderful friend and colleague, success is best measured by how we make people feel, not by what we check off of our “to do” list or add to our resume.
For those of you who might, from time to time, consider the benefits of wearing a sign like the one I proposed for myself, be assured that we’re in this together. We all have tough days. That’s not to offer an excuse, but certainly some reassurance and a reminder that the more collective good will we can garner, the more apt we are to be forgiven when things go awry.
That’s why civility is so key – civility allows us to reinforce fundamental behaviors of professionalism and allows for grace in those occasional moments when things are hard. For now, my message is this:
“Please know that I fully recognize that I am a work in progress and I appreciate your caring feedback.”