Listicle: Put it right when things go wrong

Crisis point: Start with a clear, concise statement – “I made a mistake”

Crisis point: Start with a clear, concise statement – “I made a mistake”

No matter how hard you try or how many hours you work, you’re likely to disappoint a colleague at some point. Here are eight steps for managing the situation well:

Act fast 

Address the problem right away.

Prepare emotionally 

It’s hard to be clear when you’re concerned about upsetting a co-worker or getting in trouble. To avoid adding too many words or clamming up, take a few deep breaths and start the conversation as calmly as possible.


You’ll feel better prepared – and less anxious – if you write down what to say and rehearse it. You might also prepare for different scenarios: What if the person gets upset? Or starts to yell?

Talk face to face 

When you tell someone you let him down in person, you can read his reactions better and convey a genuine apology. If you have to negotiate how to finish the project, it’ll be easier to do face to face. This might not always be possible, but use the most interactive medium you can.

Be honest 

Start with a clear, concise statement: “I made a mistake” or “I didn’t get the project done”. Then provide an explanation, but don’t belabour it.


A heartfelt “I’m sorry” can go a long way. To show you’re sincere, acknowledge the impact your slip-up had on the person and explain what you’ll do differently next time. You might have to work to restore the person’s trust in you.

Suggest a path forward 

Provide a plan for how you’re going to help make the situation right. This should be a collaborative process.

Stop overpromising 

The next time a colleague approaches you for help, be upfront about what you can do. And remember that you don’t have to say yes to everything. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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