If there is one thing that anyone working in the modern world can agree on, it’s the need to develop a good relationship with your boss. Your boss, after all, has a critical role to play in your career; they will play a decisive role on your opportunity to advance further in the company, or - if you decide to move on - they will usually be the most obvious choice for a reference. As a result, all workers have to carefully nurture their relationship with their boss, doing what they can to stand out, make a good impression, and be considered a vital part of the team.
Unfortunately, there is one scenario in particular that seems to make all of those things impossible: the times when you realize that your boss has made a mistake. There’s no denying that the realization your boss has done something wrong creates a sinking feeling. Even the most even-tempered of people dislike feeling rebuked, and most employees will fear the repercussions of having to do so when, as we’ve mentioned, the person who has made the error has such a crucial role to play in their future prospects. We give your our tips to getting through this sticky situation.
How to understand and process your initial response
So, you’ve noticed that your boss has made a mistake. Perhaps they have failed to include a crucial piece of information that means an entire task will have to be completed a second time to make amendments - whatever the specifics are, you’ve noticed, and now, you are likely frustrated. Often, feeling annoyed is entirely justifiable, especially if you’re going to have to go above and beyond to fix the mistake. However, in most cases, you’ll find that your initial flare of frustration is actually more based in fear; fear that you’ll now have to address the matter with your boss, and worry over the repercussions. If you do feel anxious or agitated when you notice a mistake your boss has made, then take a deep breath and give yourself a few minutes to compose yourself. When you feel more like yourself, you can then begin to explore your next step.
Ask yourself: do you need to tell your boss what has happened?
Often, the simplest route forward is to resolve the issue without actually informing your boss what has happened. Let’s say that your boss has blocked an emergency exit in your office with boxes. In this scenario, you could resolve the issue by moving the boxes yourself; when the boxes are moved, the risk they pose is no longer an issue, and your boss’ initial mistake no longer applies. As a result, you can move the boxes when your boss is absorbed in another task and then go back to your usual routine. This decision allows you to exchange a small inconvenience - having to move the boxes yourself - in exchange for not having to outright discuss the matter with your boss; if you’re happy with this exchange, then you can proceed with confidence.
Sometimes you will have to inform your boss of their error
However, there are some scenarios where you have to tell your boss. Let’s say that your boss has distributed instruction sheets for a project; you’ve read through and noticed they have made a recommendation that violates health and safety laws. In this scenario, the problem is more all-encompassing than it is with the boxes; numerous people will have read that information, and you can’t correct everyone without your boss becoming aware of the fact.
In this scenario, you have no choice but to inform your boss that they have made a mistake. You can’t quickly and easily correct the fault, because it is documented, and numerous employees will have seen it. However, you also can’t outright ignore the error; if someone follows advice that is dangerous, they could sustain an injury and find themselves needing to explore options for workers comp as a result. You’re essentially trapped as they would say between a rock and a hard place and you will need to do something. But, how should you do it? Here’s a few “do’s” and “don’ts” that can help you manage this situation and keep your relationship with your boss intact.
DO… wait for the right moment
Unless the mistake your boss has made will cause issues immediately, there’s no need to rush to inform them of the mistake as soon as you notice it. Instead, make a mental note to discuss it when your boss is relatively relaxed, or at least is not engaged in a specific task. Even better, set time on their calendar and make sure it is alone or with one other person. There is no need to discuss this in front of a large group and cause further embarrassment to your boss.
DON’T... assign blame
Even if you know that your boss is 100% responsible for the mistake, avoid saying so. For example:
DO… ask how you can help resolve the issue
By immediately volunteering to help correct the mistake you have found, your boss can focus on rectification rather than their part in the mistake occurring in the first instance. Plus you will be seen as a person who is detail oriented and can solve problems and that is what every boss is looking for!
DON’T… expect praise or acknowledgment
In the best case scenario, your boss will be glad you have approached them with the mistake and will thank you for your input. Some may directly acknowledge that the error is their fault and potentially even apologize for it. However, it’s helpful to see praise and acknowledgement as a bonus, not something that will absolutely happen. It can be tough to take if your boss doesn’t at least thank you, but try to remember they may be embarrassed, or may have even forgotten that they are the one who made the mistake. All you can do is raise the issue so it can be dealt with; hopefully, you’ll be recognized for your efforts, but try not to be too disappointed if no such appreciation is forthcoming.
While the idea of correcting your boss is undeniably worrisome - and can cause feelings of anxiety and worry - it is nevertheless part of working life. Hopefully, the advice will help to ensure you can navigate this difficult situation in future, so the matter can be resolved as quickly and simply as possible. Let s know your thoughts in the comments!
Picture Courtesy of Grit & Virtue.
M.E.L. is an attorney and small business entrepreneur whose mission is to help professionals conquer the workaday world with style and poise.
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