What to say if your coworker screws up your project

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What to say if your coworker screws up your project


I have recently come across someone sharing a story of a coworker who screwed up their project. Handling a situation like this, especially if you want to stay friendly and professional, but still highlight the issue to the leadership, it can be tricky so here are some ideas on different ways to handle it.

De-personalize the issue

It can often feel that someone is ganging up on you if they bring up any issues in your performance to the leadership. One way to handle it is to use language that de-personalises the issue. For example:

“After careful research, I have suggested that we proceed with A, B, and C. As only A and B were implemented, we have seen results short of my estimates. For the next project, it would need to be ensured that the full recommendation is followed”

If the person asks what happened or how you intend to ensure that the recommendations are followed you can say:

“In the future, it would need a higher attention to detail by all involved. (If this is the first time this happened you can add:). I am sure, it can be handled better once we get used to the process”. 

As you can see, I am using “it was done”, and “it was implemented”. This way you are re-personalising it, saying “it” happened not that someone made a mistake. 

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Take the collective blame 

You may not want to go this way initially, but hear me out. Have you ever had someone take the blame for your mistake? How did that make you feel? Usually, not only you might feel grateful and like the person more for them taking the hit, but it is also very motivating not to do the same mistake again. 

If you are ok following this tip, here’s a potential scenario, where there were clear mistakes made in the presentation:

“The presentation we delivered took a while to prepare, unfortunately, there have been some errors we have overseen. [list the correct items or hand in a corrected presentation]. We will ensure that in the future we are more diligent. Do you have any questions?”.

If you go this way, remember not to apologise. You are taking the collective blame, however, you haven’t done anything wrong so there is nothing to apologise for. Instead, identify the problems and bring them to the leadership’s attention, offer a solution (for example a presentation with corrected items), propose how you are going to avoid this mistake in the future, and open the room for any questions.

Adding those questions at the end helps – at least me!- not to apologise. If they are going to voice any concerns, you can address them then and there instead of apologising or ruminating in your head afterward.

This method works really well if you have made a mistake – you can take the blame as an individual “I have made an error on page 6”, but follow up with the above structure. It does sound professional and shows that you can take corrective action by yourself. 


Talk to leader 121 and praise them before you highlight issues

Another way to handle this situation is to do it during a 121 with the leader PLUS adding praise for the person who made a mistake.

For example: 

“Klaudia is a great team member. She has been very involved in this project and has contributed to a lot of analysis. She does have a tendency to rush through things though, so accuracy is not always the best. Is there something we can implement to ensure we cover this weak spot?”. Even better you can suggest a course of action to the leader to take the load off them.

This way you are showing that you still think that this person is a valuable member of the team, however like every human they have flaws and could use some guidance. 

What to say if a co-worker screws up?

If your co-worker has made a mistake that was important enough to bring up to the leadership, you can use one of these methods: de-personalise, take collective blame or talk to the leader 1 on 1. These methods are professional and gentle in approach and can help you stay on the good books with your co-worker, at the same time showing leadership your team spirit and problem solving skills.


1 Comment

  1. Maria V says:

    very useful advice, it happened to me this week. The concept of de-personalizing works and it makes you a bit more distant from the issue.


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