Photo: Ben Sutherland via Flickr
Mistakes at work are bound to happen — and they won’t always be your fault. HBR blogger Amy Gallo proposes a few ways to tackle a coworker’s error while keeping your reputation in tact:
Figure out why the mistake was made. Was it careless, or did it stem from a lack of knowledge and awareness? Until you understand why a mistake was made, it will be difficult to find a solution.
A personal issue could also be affecting your colleague’s work, so keep that in mind. Really asses if this error is out of the ordinary or if it’s a bigger issue that’s likely to continue.
Talk to your coworker directly; do not place blame. Have this conversation in private and use examples when discussing the mistake. Examples will make the issue sound factual, not emotional or opinionated.
Explain how the error effects mutual goals. This will make what you’re saying more relatable and sound less like a personal attack. There’s a big difference between, “You screwed up” and “How can we still get the job done?”
Help them improve. The office isn’t a good place to burn bridges. Instead, offer to help the coworker improve. “This world is all about connections and not only do you not want to jeopardize the relationship, but you want to build it,” says Deborah Ancona, a professor at MIT Sloan.
HBR even suggests covering for the colleague to earn their trust and show support. “By being generous now, you are incurring the obligation of your colleague to help you in the future. This reciprocity is often what strong professional relationships are built on,” they write.
Look out for yourself. If a colleague’s mistake reflects poorly on you, take some precautions. Make sure your work is visible and that your boss knows what you’ve been accomplishing.
Also, look out for office snakes: If you’re doing well and a colleague has made an error, make sure they don’t take credit for your work to cover their tracks. But, “it should be your last assumption that the colleague is making mistakes deliberately,” says Allen Cohen, Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College.
Escalate the situation only when necessary. If the mistakes continue, put distance between yourself and that individual. Avoid working with that person in the future and, when absolutely necessary, consider contacting a manager.
Bosses don’t want to be bothered by small discrepancies but, if your job or the company’s greater performance is on the line, you may need to speak up. HBR writes, “The experts agree that things would need to be very serious, e.g. the project you’re working on is headed for failure, before you approach your colleague’s manager. There is a major risk that you could alienate your colleague and permanently damage the relationship.”
For more advice and case studies on how to handle work discrepancies, head on over to HBR >>
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