The Right Way to Tell Someone They’re Wrong

What would happen if you made a mistake at work and your boss found out about it? Would your boss “speak with you” about the mistake, advising you of the error in your ways and what you should do instead, or would they “let it go” without acknowledging it even happened? I’ll let you think about that for a moment…

Now let me ask you, if you are a CEO, executive, or business leader overseeing others, which approach would you take? The best response to an employee making a mistake might actually surprise you, because it’s really a hybrid of both responses above.

Let me give you a brief example.

Suppose your child made a mistake at a young age. My guess is, as long as you weren’t extremely overtired or frustrated by a series of mistakes or other issues, your response would have likely been to speak with your child and ask what she thought she did wrong, what the impacts were of it being done wrong, and what she thought the best approach might be in the future.

This may not be the exact language, but you get the idea.

Now let’s return to an employer/employee relationship. Which of the now three scenarios above is the best approach? The third response, for several reasons:

1. We first need to validate that the other person agrees that a mistake or error has occurred.

2. Once validated, we need to be sure the individual understands the risks and impacts to doing what he has done in the manner he has done it.

3. We need to work with the individual to find a better solution, as simply telling him what he needs to do won’t ensure that he does it the “better” way the next time.

So think now about how you approach others who make mistakes, whether you are a CEO, executive, manager, or just a team member. How are you approaching others when they make a mistake?

There’s another reason why this is the best approach for addressing errors or mistakes.

Have you ever been in the middle of letting someone know they made a mistake, when you suddenly realized that it was you who was at fault?

I have, and I can tell you that the approach described above makes it much easier to understand where you may have gone wrong and NOT have to apologize to the other individual when you realize the error in your ways.

So the next time you have the obligation of letting someone know they made an error, make sure to ask questions rather than tell them what they did wrong. The results (and the willingness of the other person to correct their error) might just surprise you.

© Shawn Casemore 2016. All rights reserved.

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