What the iPhone Spell Checker and People Have in Common

| | Personal Leadership

Over the last year I have been migrating to Apple products from PC’s and a Blackberry.  I love them all, and will never go back. Yet it has nonetheless been frustrating to make the change. It’s a daily exercise in “who moved my cheese”.

Of all the things I have had to adapt to though, the one that remains the most frustrating is the spell checker on my iPhone/iPad.

Now I am clear I am not the only one (just google “autocorrect”). However, knowing that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Here is a great example:

FunFact: iPhone autocorrect doesn't like hobos. Frapachinos?

Photo by Benjamin Forrest

It can be very funny of course, but it can also get in the way of productivity and result in sending embarrassing messages you only realize you sent after the fact.

I’ve been thinking to myself lately: so what is the big deal? 

I tried turning it off for a while, but I seem to need a spell checker.  So I turned it back on.  I reasoned it just works differently than I expect so get over it and adapt because your typing is less than accurate!

And then I realized what makes me so crazy: the way the spell checker is designed, it assumes I am wrong and it is right. 

You have to actually reject the suggested correction. If you just press space, it is adopted.  If all I did was press enter or space in the above example my message would say “traps hobos”. It is a design flaw in my opinion because it defies human nature! After all, doesn’t Apple know human beings are wired to want to be right?

Now of course I know it’s not personal!  It is however a context that is hard to adapt to. It’s not natural, at least not for many of us.

This observation had me pause to reflect on what it is like to be told you are wrong by another person; when it is a person who is repeatedly saying in various ways that “you’re wrong”, rather than a computer.

The spell checker is relentless. Yet while it is irritating, it is just doing what it is programmed to do.  It’s behavior is predictable and it has nothing to do with me.  I get to choose to turn it on or turn it off.  I can also seek an alternative.

On the other hand, when a person repeatedly tells you that you are wrong, it can be much more than irritating. 

It is likely to occur as personal. It can be demeaning, discouraging, or deflating. The experience, if repeated often enough, can even do a number on your self esteem.  What’s worse is that you can can end up feeling powerless because you feel like you don’t have a choice.  And there is no switch you can flip to make it go away.

I have been coaching a client who has been on the other end of someone relentlessly finding fault with everything she does.  She is finally embracing that, like the annoying spell checker, it may just be simply how this person is programmed and has nothing to do with her.  And she is aware she does have choices to make even though it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.

She may not be able to “reprogram” the person, but she has been working to “reprogram” the relationship and her reactions by making new choices about how she will interact. For example, she has been speaking up about what she will and will not tolerate. She has stopped trying to defend herself. There may not be a simple switch you can flip to change someone elses behavior, but there is always a choice you can make to empower yourself.

Leaders choose.  If you want to lead, you must learn to choose no matter what the circumstance. If you make a choice and it does not turn out the way you hoped, all there is to do is learn from it and make another choice.


Enter A Comment

Jon Mertz   |   29 February 2012   |   Reply


Yes, the difference between the spell checker and leaders is that good leaders adapt and learn! They don’t keep making the same incorrect finding; leaders learn and keep their core passion to move forward positively.

Interesting post in making the change and in working through being told you are wrong. Thanks!


Susan Mazza   |   29 February 2012   |   Reply

Excellent point Jon! Thanks