How Recipients React: a few cautions

by J. E. Brown

What to Expect After Sending Your Letter: When you correct someone, do not expect to be thanked. When you set boundaries on how you will be treated, what you're essentially doing is taking away someone's power to go on treating you the way they always have. In return, they will behave as though you have done something wrong. They will behave as if you have taken something from them. And you have. But don't let them fool you into thinking you're wrong to do it.

When rude people are corrected, they will usually try to shift the spotlight onto you and nitpick everything about your correction of them: the way you did it, your choice of medium (letter, phone or e-mail), your supposed over-patience or lack of patience, and even your timing (often with some form of "Your correction came out of the blue"). What about their timing? Do they secretly think there was a right time for the rudeness they committed? Do they secretly think there is ever a right time to abuse you?

They'll claim you could have found a better (but unknown) way to make your complaint. Don't let someone who was rude to you lecture you on the right way to handle people. {You're reading "How Recipients React" by J. E. Brown.}

Some rude people will nitpick the fact that you wrote a letter. They'll suggest that it was cowardly of you to not speak to them face-to-face. That's just a smoke screen. They'll say the written word has the disadvantage of not conveying the tone of your voice, which supposedly makes it easier to misinterpret. Well, misinterpretations happen face-to-face too. In reality, putting your thoughts in a letter has the advantage that your thoughts can be redrafted and polished over time, and so can actually be said more carefully than with the spoken word. So, that old excuse is just absurd. No, the real problem with letters is that writers often become uninhibited, and start kitchen-sinking and being sarcastic. But you have me to read your letter for you, so you don't have to worry. :^) From me, you'll get tactful advice, every time. I'll help you to look your best and to make your points with style and fairness.

When a rude person has grown accustomed to mistreating you, it becomes second nature to him or her, and he or she learns to be hurtful to others without even thinking about it. So you can imagine his or her surprise when you challenge that behavior as rude. Try to be somewhat accommodating of their oversight and their surprise; and even though it may not be quite true in every case, be prepared to reassure the offender that the problem is with the behavior, not with him or her. Be prepared to say, "You know, when you talk that way, people get the wrong idea about you." The offender will probably protest that he or she had the best intentions; point out that you do too, and that's why you're mentioning this, as a friend. But if he or she defends the behavior and refuses to change it, in effect choosing the behavior over you, then the person and the problem become one, become inseparable, and more radical solutions, like temporary cool-down time or permanent separation, become necessary.

What I do

I proofread letters for civility, tact and diplomacy. I have a knack for recognizing inflammatory remarks when I read or hear them.
Let me proofread your letter.
I'll remove any parts which are unintentionally hurtful or which needlessly confuse or shock the reader.
Use my service if you agree that you may have blind spots to how your words affect others; I try to help you see through those blind spots.

To put it another way: Remember the story of Edward Scissorhands? He kept hurting the people he loved, even though he had the best intentions. Well, if you secretly worry that you might be Edward or Edwina Poison-Pen, I can help you. :^)

Frequently Asked Question

Question: How can I correct an abusive person without making him or her mad?

Answer: I like the way Dr. Irene of puts it:

"Abusers are not motivated to stop. In fact, their negative behavior usually escalates when their victim tries to resist or begins to set limits." --

In other words, they get mad because you set boundaries and limits, not because of the way you do it. And while it certainly doesn't help to correct anyone in an inflammatory way, abusers (who erupt at nothing) will criticize even the most patient, fair, and level-headed correction. In short, there is no reliable way to correct them without making them angry. There are only choices to make: 1. Will you allow yourself and others to be walked on? 2. Do you choose to have a backbone? {Read this comp1ete article at .}

I know from experience that no rude person takes correction willingly. But remember, when someone has mistreated you, your goal should not be to appease them. Good manners does not mean letting people walk all over you. Of course you must give the correction calmly and rationally, but this is so you and others will look back later and remember that you did the best you could, and that you gave the corrected person just enough benefit of the doubt.

More Snags to Watch Out For:

Occasionally you'll meet someone who plays these mind games: {You're reading "How Recipients React" by J. E. Brown.}

Rude people are famous for their creative evasions and blame-shifting and their fake apologies that are hard to tell from the real thing. Some will try to shame you by making selective use of religious quotations to push an ideology in which forgiveness is emphasized but apologizing is never mentioned ("you should turn the other cheek [when I hit you]" and so on). Others will try to baffle you with theories of nontraditional ethics (which they make up on the spot). If your offender tries this on you and you feel confused, write me back with the details, and I'll try to clarify for you. (No extra charge if you've already paid me to proofread the letter for you.) I've probably heard it before.

In any case, remember that forgiveness only happens when someone regains your trust. And not until. Remind the offender of this, if necessary. People who value your trust (as the favor it is) are called friends, and will show concern for your happiness.

As you can see, there are many pitfalls to watch out for when writing a letter of correction.
And there are many more which I don't have room for here.
Let me help you avoid them. To begin using my service, visit the proofreading home page.

2nd edition. 08 Nov 2004 

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