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How To Tell An Employee They Made A Mistake

If you are responsible for supervising people one of the most difficult parts of your job is to point out the mistakes of those you work with. No doubt that it is uncomfortable to call out mistakes. Often it is easier to look the other way than engage in a difficult conversation. But, on some level you cost your team, your organization and do a disservice to the individual involved if you keep ignoring someone’s mistakes.

A great supervisor has the ability to confront mistakes and use it as an opportunity to help their employees learn, grow and succeed while still preserving their relationships. Ideally, you want them to learn what they did wrong and how to not make the same mistake in the future. Here is some guidance in how to accomplish this.

12 Tips For How To Tell An Employee They Made A Mistake

  1. Get all the facts. Your first obligation is to gain a sense of reality. Gather all of the pertinent facts and contributing factors before confronting the employee with the mistake.
  2. Assess how big a deal the mistake is. Sometimes a mistake seems more important than it really is. Or maybe it is just important to you. So, it is wise to ask yourself a few questions first. Was the mistake intentional or unintentional? Was the mistake part of bigger or chronic behaviors or was it a one off? What is the gravity of the mistake? Did it cause personal harm or financial loss? How you answer these questions can help you decide whether or not to confront, how quickly to confront, and should others become involved.
  3. Don’t confront if you are still mad or frustrated. When your emotions are in the red zone it’s not a good idea to address the mistake. Confronting while you are still angry often results in saying things and leaving lasting impressions you wished you hadn’t.
  4. Address the mistake as soon as possible. While waiting until you cool down is important, you don’t want to put off addressing the mistake indefinitely. The longer you wait the more anxious you become and the more awkward the conversation. And addressing the error sooner than later gives the employee the opportunity to correct the mistake quickly.
  5. Have the conversation in private. Ideally, pull the employee aside for a private meeting in a neutral spot rather than confronting the mistake in front of their peers. Not humiliating the employee in public is more respectful and it will help to preserve your relationship.
  6. Include an offer to help when providing feedback. Offering to be a part of the solution or offering specific training around the error sends a reassuring message to the employee. Bringing the problem to their attention for the purpose of helping them fix it removes some of their fear and defensiveness.
  7. Be humble and kind. To err is human. Sharing stories of when you have made mistakes and emphasizing that you are open to being wrong in your assessment will incentivize the employee to admit to the mistake and commit to do better in the future.
  8. Be direct and specific. It is helpful to the employee if you are not evasive about the topic of the conversation or spend a long time leading up to what you want to say. State your intentions at the top of the conversation and be specific. It is not helpful to the employee if you are unclear when stating the nature of the mistake or fail to state the consequences and impact of the mistake.
  9. Criticize but don’t discourage. A good way to criticize without discouraging is to emphasize that the problem isn’t caused by some fatal character flaw or unfixable skill that is lacking. Again, if you have been criticized for something similar, now is the time to share it.
  10. Start with a question. A good place to start is with a question stated as a curiosity. For example, you might say “I noticed where you didn’t follow our stated process. Do you see a better or more efficient procedure we should consider?” A follow up question is to ask about the circumstances surrounding the mistake. Questions opens the door for beneficial dialogue without being combative and also helps you get to the bottom of what they were thinking.
  11. Encourage them to learn from their mistake. Learning happens best when the employee understands fully the nature of the mistake, the circumstances surrounding it and why it created a problem. Asking how they would handle the same situation in the future is a good way to make certain they understand how to successfully address the same circumstance in the future.
  12. Give them the opportunity to regain trust. The employee needs to know that a repeat of the mistake could cause a loss of trust, but you are willing to provide them an opportunity to demonstrate that they are reliable and trustworthy. Allow them to redeem themselves by giving them several smaller additional assignments.


Posted on December 6, 2022

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5