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My Boss Cannot Spell - Can I Fix His Errors Without Embarrassing Him?

Q. My boss is a great guy, but not a great speller. I’ve seen things go out under his signature that are filled with grammatical errors. Is there any way to tactfully correct him without making him resent me?

A. Your question reminds me of one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, “I have no respect for a man who can spell a word only one way.” His perspective, although funny, is not one usually smiled upon in a professional environment. From the tone of your question, I take it that you understand that correspondence represents both the writer and the organization. Therefore, grate grahmer and correct spilling is indeed importent. Okay, enuff. [sic]

The easy answer: In today’s world, most everyone is using a computer to write correspondence. With built-in software that automatically corrects or flags most misspelled words, letters and e-mails with such mistakes are readily correctable, unless a person simply is choosing to ignore those flags, or has not turned on the software’s automatic grammar and spell checker. First, cover these bases.

Challenge alert: From the way you asked your question, I assume spelling is a personal strength of yours. Since you also mentioned he is a “great guy,” you obviously respect him for his other positive qualities. That is a great start in realizing we all possess a mix of strengths and weaknesses and that we need to work as a team and utilize each other’s skills. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 makes a related point: Now the body is not a single part, but many… if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be?

Said otherwise, to optimize organizational performance, we need each other’s uniqueness and individual strengths to make the whole “body” complete. No one of us is as capable as all of us.'

In the final analysis, deciding whether to bring up the issue of how your skills can improve your boss’ correspondence depends upon whether he has previously been open to input from you. Is there evidence that he understands that teams optimize their performance when they rely upon each other’s strengths? If so, then test the waters by suggesting a few edits on a document he has recently produced. However, unless you are fairly certain he will be open to your suggestions, let it go –  for the moment. In the meantime, wait until he asks for your editing input; you will then have the opportunity you are seeking. Once he understands the “value add” of your skills, I bet he will take notice and use them to enhance the “whole body” – or, in this instance, the organization.