what should I say to my boss when coworkers tattle on me?
A reader writes:
My supervisor has been calling me into her office and telling me about mistakes I’ve made that she found out about from my peers who work with me. They are minor mistakes and I take full responsibility for them, but what should I say to my supervisor about being “tattled” on?
“Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I’m going to do ___ to make sure that it doesn’t happen going forward.”
That’s it. There’s no reason to address the fact that your coworkers brought these mistakes to her attention — because that’s not relevant here, and it will make it look like you’re more concerned about that than about the fact that you’re making mistakes, and that would be misplaced.
The thing is, there’s really no such thing as “tattling” in the workplace. There are petty complaints about things that don’t affect anyone’s work (“Jane is three minutes late every day” or “Bob taps his foot all day long in the most annoying way”), and then there are comments about things that truly do affect the organization’s work. It’s not tattling to bring the latter to your manager’s attention.
Now, of course it’s generally better if people bring mistakes to your attention before escalating it to your manager, and it’s annoying if they didn’t. But sometimes they just don’t. Sometimes that’s because they’ve pointed out mistakes to you in the past and are now concerned there’s a pattern, or because the mistake was big enough that they thought the manager needed to know. Sometimes it’s because they’re not comfortable talking to you directly (either because you’re not especially approachable or because they’re just bad at those conversations). Sometimes it’s because they really just didn’t think it through and alerted the manager because that seemed like the logical choice to them. And yes, sometimes (not often, but sometimes) it’s because they’re jerks who want to get you in trouble.
It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, though — the fact is, you made mistakes, your manager spoke with you about them, and your best bet from here is to put your efforts into making sure you don’t continue to make them.
That said, you can certainly say to your coworkers, “Hey, Penelope let me know about mistakes X, Y, and Z. If you notice stuff like that in the future, feel free to give me a heads-up — I definitely want to fix it.” But you need to say this in a tone that doesn’t signal, “You’re a jerk for telling her.” It truly needs to sound sincere and kind — and if you can’t pull that off, you’re better off not saying anything, or you risk your boss hearing next that you horribly mishandled this situation by making people feel uncomfortable for sharing information with her.
But regardless, don’t take this up with your manager, or you’ll look like you value not being tattled on over the organization’s need to have work done well. And believe me, her priority is having working work done well — and that should be yours too.