Did It? Wrote It? Own It!
Far be it for me to deprive anyone of a good laugh — even if it's at my expense. So when a reader brought it to my attention that I had made a rather unfortunate typo in a recent column, what else could I do but go pubic … ummmmm … public with it? I was writing about a "public forum," and yes, I did make the spelling (or spell-check) error that everyone jokes about making.
I was momentarily mortified, but then I just cracked up. I thanked the person who alerted me to it, and then I posted about it on Facebook after, of course, correcting it online. The day I wrote about it on my private Facebook page, a friend, fundraising consultant and influential blogger in the space we cover asked to use my confession as part of a blog post on misspelling. Sure! Why the hell not? It'll make people cringe, giggle and, one would hope, check their own work a little more carefully than I did mine that day.
It reminded me of when a reader took one of our columnists to task for writing something somewhat controversial. The columnist was uncomfortable with my taking the exchange public by approving the comments and encouraging him to engage the reader online. But I convinced him it was best to not shy away when someone takes the time to write, even if what he or she writes is less than agreeable. Same held true when a reader accused me of being a misogynist because an article in our daily e-letter, Today in Fundraising, used masculine rather than feminine pronouns in reference to "bosses."
And this all reminded me of an incident years ago when a fellow editor inadvertently hit "reply all" rather than "forward" on an e-mail, which resulted in the original writer (a reader commenting negatively about something that appeared in print) seeing a snarky remark that the editor intended to send to his staff. The reader shot back an understandably angry e-mail, and the editor's first reaction was to ignore it all. But after some persuading, he apologized humbly and genuinely, and invited the reader to write an op-ed piece for the newspaper expressing his opinion on the original article. Rather than result in a former reader who would trash-talk the publication for years to come, the incident left the reader with a positive image of a publication that is run by humans who, despite making mistakes, have the cajones to own up to them and go out of their way to make things right.
If you write for a living — whether it be novels, journalism, poems, PR pieces, blogs or acquisition letters — there will come a time when someone doesn't like something you write, when you make a mistake or even just use a turn of phrase that rubs someone the wrong way. The key is in how you handle it. Playing possum and hoping the embarrassment, inconvenience or controversy will pass without you acknowledging it isn't the way to go. I've found that the more sincere, humble, apologetic (when called for) and open you are about the issue — whether it's a funny little typo or a serious concern — the faster and more eloquently it will be resolved. Social media is filled with examples to back me up. But the heat of the moment is no time to be making decisions on how to handle it. Get an organizational plan in place now. Then when the gaffe or negative feedback (warranted or not) comes, just take a deep breath, stick to the plan and tackle the issue head-on.