How to Tell Your Coworker You Let Them Down

by Michelle Guerrere

Before you panic the next time you mess up at work and it affects a colleague, take a deep breath. Remember that no matter how icky you feel about dropping the ball on something—whether it’s missing a deadline you promised you’d make or shooting off an email that was misinterpreted by a client—how you handle the situation can lessen the blow significantly. And your feeling of guilt isn’t out of the ordinary, according to Sigal Barsade, a professor of management at the prestigious Wharton School. “We don’t like to disappoint people,” Barsade says. “We think they might be upset with us or it might damage our credibility.”

So how do we bounce back with grace? A recent article Amy Gallo wrote for Harvard Business Review gives a step-by-step account of how to tell your coworker you made an error. Scroll down for these surefire tips that you can keep handy:

  1. Don’t wait to address the problem. Yes, the situation is uncomfortable, but you're going to make it much worse if you just slink back in your cubicle and don't say anything. The sooner you pipe up and admit your mea culpa, the faster your boss or teammate can work together with you to find a solution.
  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Chances are you are going to be nervous. Jot down a draft of what you want to say to make sure you are to the point while still explaining exactly what went wrong.
  3. Practice your speech. Speak calmly, but let your coworker see that you really do feel bad and want to take steps to sort it out. Practice with a friend or family member on the phone during your lunch hour to get their feedback.
  4. Do it face-to-face. Some things should never be said in an email, and this is one of them. Depending on your office environment, either stop by or send an email requesting a time to meet. Make sure to make eye contact and show your sincerity with hand gestures and body language.
  5. Take responsibility. Even if you have a good excuse, don't say it. Admit it was your fault and explain how the situation happened.
  6. Say you’re sorry. But only if you truly mean it. Appeal to the other person's emotions by addressing that you know your slip-up has affected the team.
  7. Find a fix. Whether your work has to be split up between a few people or your boss has to mitigate the error, make sure you identify a solution before ending your conversation. Come to the meeting prepared with some ideas so that you're not just dumping another task on your colleague. 

To read more about how to handle this situation, visit Harvard Business Review.

Write your coworker a thank-you note after the situation is settled, thanking him or her for their help. 

How do you address slip-ups at work with your coworkers? 

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