my boss thinks I made a mistake — but I didn’t

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my current job as an editor for two years now and so far I have had a very nice experience. I report to a manager who reports to the director. The director assigns me work often. She doesn’t really work with any of the other editors directly so I feel like she really trusts me. In all the time I’ve been there I’ve never been reprimanded. Many of my coworkers complain about the director’s attitude but to me she’s always been very nice.

Earlier last week she called me into her office and gently let me know that I didn’t catch something I should have and e-mail her to let her know. She was really nice about it and basically said it was ok because I usually always do catch things like that. The thing is I DID catch it and I DID e-mail her about it. I also sent her a follow-up email when she didn’t respond. She misses e-mails often because she gets so many but she usually sees it when you send her a follow up. I wanted to lightly mention that I did e-mail her but instead I just apologized since she didn’t make a big deal out of it so I didn’t want to look overly sensitive.

Then last Friday a very similar mistake came through and again I caught it and sent her an e-mail. First thing this morning she sent me an e-mail asking why I didn’t catch it and e-mail her when we talked about a similar scenario last week. This is the second time I did e-mail her and she didn’t see it. Again, I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t sure how to let her know without sounding like I’m saying she didn’t check her e-mail. If this happens again, how can I handle it?

You’re actually doing yourself and your boss a disservice by not correcting the record in each of these two cases. You’re allowing your boss to have incorrect information, and no sane boss wants that.

The thing to do the first time it happened would have been to say, “Oh, I actually did email you about that. Did you not receive it? I can check to make sure I’m not misremembering.” And then you could have checked and, assuming you did indeed find the sent email, you could forward it to her with a note saying, “Ah, just wanted to confirm that I did send this — sounds like it might not have made its way to you though!”

The idea here isn’t to play a game of gotcha, or even to defend yourself — it’s to simply and matter-of-factly correct the record so that she’s not working off of bad information.

Giving your boss correct information isn’t accusing her of not checking her emails. People miss emails for all sorts of reasons — a tech error, a simple oversight, a crazily overloaded inbox. It’s not a moral judgment on her. (But you know what is a moral judgment? Thinking that she couldn’t handle you just explaining that you did send the email. I’d be totally taken aback if I found out that an employee wasn’t speaking up when I criticized them incorrectly on something so objectively black and white.)

But you can actually go back and correct the record now. Say something like this, “I could have sworn that I did email you about X and Y, so I went back to check — and I was able to find the emails. I’m forwarding them along just in case there’s an issue with my email or yours!”

You really need to do this — if no other reason than if you make an actual mistake in the next few months, you want it to look like number one, not number three.

{ 173 comments… read them below }

  1. sally-o*

    I agree heartily with Alison’s advice. Plus, what if there really is something wrong with the way your emails are reaching her? What if she accidentally sent an earlier email of yours to the spam folder, and now more of them are getting caught there? What if your outbox is quarantining messages for some reason? This is important to know!

    What’s bad is claiming you sent an email when you really didn’t. What’s absolutely NOT bad is setting the record straight when you did in fact send an email.

    1. The IT Manager*

      My thoughts exactly. It’s possible your boss missed both, but two missed messages in a row makes me think you’ve got a technical issue now – spam folder, outlook rules, etc that’s causing your messages to be missed.

    2. Phyllis*

      Email spam systems can and will do this, even within organizations, and even from whitelisted ‘trusted sources’. It’s happened to me; absolutely worth checking into.

      1. Frances*

        Yes. Apparently my last name is the same as a company that’s well known for spamming people. It’s never really affected me, but my dad had a recurring problem a few years back when he’d send emails to clients that had high spam filter settings and it would get flagged as spam because their filter was set to weed out everything with our last name in the email address.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I know some people at Pfizer who worked on projects surrounding a certain drug that starts with a V, and they had to use a code word in all their emails because the actual name kept tripping all the spam filters. (They tried excluding that word from the filter and were inundated with all the spam you’d expect, which apparently made internal communications even more difficult).

    3. Lizabeth*

      Can you flag the email so it sends back a message as delivered and one that sends a message when it’s actually read? This comes in handy with our resident idiot who, according to her, never gets the email that’s in question – it proves otherwise.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Noooooooooooo. That’s such an aggressive move; I can’t imagine doing that with a boss.

      2. Elysian*

        I agree with Victoria – Noooooooooooo. Read receipts scream “I don’t trust you to read my correspondence.” Plus they’re invasive and unreliable. This would be such an aggressive sentiment, and I don’t think its warranted.

      3. Eeeeka*

        This also doesn’t work in Outlook if you use the reading pane. You’ll get a delivery notification, but as far as the system is concerned, you didn’t open it, so you didn’t read it.

        1. Squirrel!*

          Yes, but if you click off of that message to go to a new one, it counts as “read” and will prompt you for a receipt.

        2. Vicki*

          Not just Outlook. My guess (having seen this with Eudora and also Apple Mail) is that any reader with a “reading pane” will fail to trigger the Receipt.

      4. Karowen*

        I wouldn’t do it without talking to the boss first, but the OP could use it as a solution – saying something like “My messages must not be getting through properly, or at all. Would you like me to set a delivery or read receipt so that I can follow up if I don’t get the receipt?”

        Also, regarding it not working in outlook if the person uses the reading pane – there’s a setting for that, something like “mark as read if I’ve spent x seconds on it in the reading pane.” Boss or OP could set that up.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I did this for a couple of months. My email service just started acting up, and I told a couple of clients I’d be temporarily using read receipts and delivery notices to make sure everything was working again. Considering they’d been frustrated that I missed their emails, they were happy to go along with it. But it was temporary, and I informed them.

      5. Holly*

        My workplace is one of the few not using outlook and our system has a pane that shows delivered/read. Outlook def doesn’t have this?? We’re switching soon :(

        1. Not So NewReader*

          We just got Outlook at work. It’s a nightmare. There are countless problems. I can send an email if I know the person’s address off the top of my head. That is it. We look at email once every few weeks and only if we have to. I hope you make out better with your set-up.

      6. De (Germany)*

        And then there’s people like me who just configure Outlook to *never* send out reading notifications and never ask me whether it should send one. Neither would not getting a receipt mean I didn’t read it (I read in the reasing panel) nor is the reverse true (I could open and not read).

    4. Elysian*

      So true. And this is such an easy punt – even when you know your manager is just ignoring your emails, whether its the first time or the 100th, you can always say: “Here’s the email I sent regarding Important Issue. It must not have gotten through!” You can blame the technology every time.

  2. Andrea*

    OP, this is good advice, and I hope you’ll take it. And going forward, I really hope you’ll get more comfortable with speaking up about these things. There’s nothing in the world that would cause me to accept such criticism quietly when it wasn’t warranted and when I could easily and quickly prove that I had in fact done the right thing. I mean, I would be professional about it, but no way would I just accept that I had made a mistake when I had not. It’s absolutely okay to speak up in your own defense in these situations, and you really need to learn to do that for your own sake (and of course, for your career).

  3. fposte*

    You might also ask if there’s a way she’d prefer you titling those messages in future. Subject lines can make or break the memorability of an email for me.

    1. Sascha*

      Yes – it’s a lot easier to remember “Error correction on Document #4” than just “fyi” or no subject at all.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, this! Forward her the email, and ask if there is anything in the future you need to do to make sure she gets and reads the message – does it need to have a subject line like URGENT: MISTAKE IN JONES REPORT, to get her attention? Normal email etiquette would consider sending messages like that is rude, but some people want you to do that for them. Alternately, does she want you to contact her in a different way about these types of issues?

      Apologize for mistakes you actually made. Don’t apologize for not sending emails you actually sent.

      1. Kelly L.*

        My pet peeve is when–I think it happens when people can’t spell my last name –people don’t start a new email chain with me when starting a completely new topic, and instead dig up an old email I sent them and reply to it without even changing the subject line. So I’ll get “Re: Holiday party!” and the email is actually about TPS reports or the copier being broken.

          1. Liz T*

            I also hate the inverse–the woman who’s training me will start a new thread on a continuing conversation, so I’ll have to search through the previous threads to figure out what she’s referencing.

            Actually, she does both things. It’s a bit trying.

            1. C Average*

              I think a lot of people come to the work world with no concept that email etiquette is even a thing. I know that was my situation. My previous experience with email was limited to school-related and personal correspondence, where subject lines and thread management and cc lists didn’t really apply. Thank God my first corporate boss was a patient man who saw that I was quick and receptive but needed the concept of business email correspondence explicitly spelled out to me!

        1. sally-o*

          Yes. That’s the #1 reason that I miss emails – because someone replied to a lengthy chain rather than flagging an issue for me with a new subject line.

    3. Bend & Snap*

      I always title emails of this nature “NAME: Review Needed” or “NAME: Urgent Flag” or something like that, so people know it’s for them and requires input.

      1. fposte*

        It’s all a question of what works in your org. That’s too general for me–I’d want the name of the task/project in the subject, since I get stuff needed for review all the time, and I don’t believe anybody else’s “urgent” :-).

  4. Snarkus Ariellius*

    Can the people with overloaded inboxes please let me know WHY you all don’t check email first before complaining?  I don’t mean to come off so harsh, but I’ve been in the LW’s position before, and I’d love to get a perspective from the other side.

    If you all know that you get tons of emails, wouldn’t it make sense to do a keyword search before saying anything?

    I actually had one woman say, “Oh look there it is.  In my inbox.  Marked as unread.  Okay then.”

    Excluding tech issues of course.

    1. C Average*

      This. Seriously.

      I get that you’re busier than God and you’re four levels above me on the org chart and your time is precious. But when you accuse people of making errors, copy in their manager and/or peers, and then are corrected with an “um, yeah, here’s the email I sent you last week,” you just look like a self-important ass who doesn’t show the most basic respect to your subordinates.

    2. Sascha*

      One reason might be the search feature is really slow. I am constantly reindexing my Outlook email because it gets so bogged down. Searches can take several minutes. I know my director, who is rarely at his computer and uses his phone most of the time, doesn’t like to wait on a search if he can just email you again.

      Not defending it, people should check their email, but that’s just a possibility.

      1. Natalie*

        Outlook’s search also sucks particularly badly. Why doesn’t it accept quotation marks and other common search modifications?

        1. LQ*

          Outlook’s search is painfully bad. I am a huge searcher for information. All I should need to remember is a keyword or phrase or who sent it or anything and I should be able to pull it up in seconds. We have the technology for this. I just wish Microsoft would use it in Outlook. (They use it elsewhere in their products, I don’t understand why they are so atrocious at it for outlook.)

          1. Sascha*

            YES! I hate Outlook so much. My Gmail works beautifully. It will find what I need from misspelled words in seconds. Alas, my organization will never use anything else, so I just resign myself to setting the search off and going to make a cup of tea for at least 15 minutes.

            1. HM in Atlanta*

              I find that Gmail can also be a pain. If I search for Halloween, I would expect to get all the emails with Halloween somewhere in them. Nope, I’ll get random things that don’t have Halloween, some that do, while skipping relevant results.

              1. Mephyle*

                When I have this problem, I can often overcome it by refining the search; adding another keyword, and/or using Gmail’s advanced search features – e.g. from:me to:Bob has:attachment older_than:2 m. Of the advanced search features, I also find labels particularly useful for narrowing down searches.

            2. Apollo Warbucks*

              I hate outlook since Microsoft switched from using Internet Explorer for the HTML engine to using Word, which removed all of the “advanced” HTML tags breaking all my nicely formatted emails sent from the database I look after :(

          2. Tiff*

            My outlook does this – I didn’t realize it was an issue for other users. Usually I can do a quick search just using a word or small phrase. I’m horrible at organizing my emails into folders, and the search function has saved me many times.

            1. Natalie*

              If I use a phrase it will give me results for every word in the phrase (e.g. “use OR a OR phrase”). If I use a short word I get results for both the word and anywhere that word appears as part of another word.

              1. Kyrielle*


                Outlook is terrible at OR’s but it has a lot of other handy features. F’rex, the following would work for finding things like the OP wrote about:

                (keyword related to the report or error) From:OP to:Forgetful Sent:this month

            2. My two cents...*

              why don’t you folks just sort your inbox by name, and then you can quickly check the dates/subjects as well as scan for an attachment you might be looking for?

                1. My two cents...*

                  i wasn’t trying to be rude, just simply offer a suggestion. and FWIW, it does work with sent mail. if you’re going through the trouble of sorting emails into various folders, it seems like it might be a faster check to just sort each folder by name and preen, as opposed to waiting for the ‘slow’ search feature.

                  i personally can’t stand using multiple folders for my email. i do engineering support and often need to cross reference stuff from the dev engineers with customer issues/complaints. i wonder if the multi-folder configuration is what bogs outlook search down, cause even with the massive number of emails i receive my search function only ever takes 10s.

                2. C Average*

                  I wonder if that IS part of it, now that I think about it. The only time I’ve ever had trouble finding stuff in Outlook was when I did a one-time experiment and created folders and sorted all my emails.

                  (I was leaving one position and moving to another and had a brief delusion of turning over a new leaf and being an inbox zero overachiever type instead of the highly effective controlled chaos type that I’d been in the past. But I found the folders just confused me and bogged me down, and I’d never had problems finding what I needed until I created folders! So I’ve gone back to my no-folders approach and can always find what I’m looking for.)

                  I admire the people I know with tidy inboxes (and desks and counters and minds), but I’ve grudgingly accepted that I just don’t thrive in an atmosphere that organized.

                3. Natalie*

                  No worries, I didn’t think you were rude.

                  My issue with the search function isn’t actually the speed, but it’s general crappiness. Timely example – I just searched for “safety” (the most unique part of a company name) and the first six results are one email conversation that has the word safety in it zero times. It doesn’t even appear to be a word fragment, and it’s not in the attachment. I’m completely at a loss as to why it came up as a result.

                4. Eeeeka*

                  I have one folder where I file everything, which I “archive” annually. I find it’s much easier to find things that way. I might have to search two of the archive folders, but I definitely have everything.

                  I can’t keep it in my inbox, since I use that as a to do list (yes, I know you’re not supposed to do that, but if I don’t, it doesn’t get done).

                5. Scarlett*

                  Oh my gosh, C Average, you understand me. I have the same exact “problem”. Only learned it was a flaw of mine when my replacement at my old job made fun of me for it. I had to file 15000 emails for her when she took over because she’s an inbox zero overachiever. At new job, I thought I’d be all awesome and file my emails in organized project specific folders. Nope. 4,000 emails in my inbox later, my chaos stays.

                6. Jen RO*

                  I also found it more difficult to manage an “organized” inbox. My folders lasted about a month and I could never find anything. Now, I just use the method described by My two cents – Sort by from/to is my lifesaver.

              1. Chinook*

                Instead of searching for a name, add the recipient to your contacts (if you haven’t already), open their contact and select the “contact” tab, “show” section, “activities” button. This will then do a search of all items (including calendar and tasks) with that email address atatched to them.

        2. Jillociraptor*

          Webmail. If you have a webmail client for Outlook, the search is about a thousand times faster.

          1. LQ*

            I do actually use that workaround. The webmail version OF Outlook is somehow faster. It boggles my mind. And I have gone in and heavily optimized it for search but it is still excruciatingly slow.

        3. Ellie H.*

          Wow, I feel the exact opposite. I think that Gmail’s email search is the worst in the entire world and Outlook’s is super accurate and fast. I have a pretty big inbox too (not the biggest ever, but not nothing).

          1. C Average*

            Second this. I don’t use folders at all in Outlook; I rely solely on search and on my above-average recall of whom I talked to about what when.

            I don’t delete anything, ever. I’ve had too many CYA moments.

            One time, I was questioned about why I didn’t take a particular action on a particular day, and I was able to produce the out-of-office notification for the decision maker who would’ve needed to sign off on me taking that particular action. That’s right: I saved my ass by forwarding an OOO auto-reply.

            In the immortal words of Andy Grove, only the paranoid survive.

              1. C Average*

                Weird aside: When I was a kid, I thought that “paranoid” was a past-tense formation of a verb with a direct object, roughly parallel to “annoy.” So in the same way that one could become annoyed by having someone annoy her, one could also become paranoid (parannoyed?) by having someone parannoy her.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Yep! And I use folders in Outlook and even secondary archive files (because keeping everything in my inbox would violate our server usage rules by overstuffing it full, lol) – I have gigabytes of data and can find stuff from the past very quickly, with the exception of ones for which I can’t think of a good distinguishing term. (You know, the things you hear and you immediately think “Oh my word, we’ve discussed related topics so much I’m going to get half of everything on any search I concoct” – and generally you do. LOL.)

      2. Snarkus Ariellius*

        I concede that some email search functions can be tricky and/or useless, however…

        If you legitimately can’t find something in your email, you still have no right to start from the assumption that it was the other person’s mistake.  That is what ruffles my feathers.  A bulk of the times I’ve been snapped at over this, it’s because the other person (usually a boss) either didn’t check email at all or didn’t make a real effort to find what I sent beyond glancing at one screen of an inbox that has 1,000+ emails in it.

        I say this as a person who does have to ask for some emails to be resent, but I never confront the other person that way because I know there’s a decent chance I screwed up.  Sometimes I legitimately lost it, and other times the person really didn’t send it to me.  If it’s the latter and it’s a chronic problem, then I address it that way.

        1. JB*

          I totally agree with this. I think it’s fine for me to ask a direct report if she did XYZ, or even to say “It looks like you didn’t do XYZ, am I missing something?” But to start with the assumption that she fell down on the job and take her to task for that? That’s bad management. And that’s all on me. Why start there? Nothing wrong with following up or asking about it, and I’m not saying to start with the assumption that it was me who screwed up. I’m saying we should start with assuming there’s an explanation, and asking about it.

          1. Sunshine*

            I’ve had to eat crow way too many times because I missed something that was sent to me. I learned to always ask before I accuse.

            1. Kelly L.*

              This. “Did you send xyz, I may have lost it in my email shuffle” in a non-accusatory tone goes so much further.

            2. JB*

              You sound like a reasonable, intelligent person. So many of us have worked for people who never admit they were wrong and never rethink the strategy of accuse first and ask questions never.

      3. NutellaNutterson*

        Also, if you’re searching from a phone, you can’t sort by date, and it decides the relevance based on some sort of facebook-like algorithm that has no basis in reality.

    3. AVP*

      Argh, my boss has 4000 unread emails at any given point and constantly misses things. Not technical issues, he just doesn’t see them or doesn’t read them and then gets annoyed that he’s missed messages.

      I’ve analyzed this a hundred times and what it comes down to is, he doesn’t understand the technology (gmail) and doesn’t care to learn it. He’s constantly signing up for email lists and store promotion lists that clutter up his inbox, and he uses the same email address for personal and business purposes, which adds to the mess. He doesn’t know how to do a keyword search (which gmail isn’t great with anyway).

      It’s easier for him to get annoyed and accusatory at other people than to change himself, and he’s the boss so that’s his prerogative. We deal with it and roll our eyes and re-send things when necessary.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius*

        In those situations, I always, always forward the original email not to be passive-aggressive but to cover my butt.

      2. Cassie*

        Do you and I have the same boss?! Oh, wait, my boss’s Gmail inbox has 8000 unread messages (many which probably have been read by him on Thunderbird but doesn’t show up as “read”). He uses his email address for both work and personal correspondence, he signs up for store promotions, his son ends up sending email out from his address (do these people not know how to log in and log out?), etc. He’ll reply to an email he received months ago (usually when he’s waiting at the airport), long after the issue has been worked out.

    4. Tiffany In Houston*

      +1000. Then when gently reminded with said forwarded email, the person goes radio silent instead of being decent enough to apologize. That would be too much like right.

      1. Tiff*

        This. All of this. My old boss was at least good enough to send a quick “whoops – I’ll read more carefully next time.” message. But then, she was not one to send a bunch of accusatory emails anyway.

    5. A Jane*

      My favorite moment is when the email receiver freaks out and escalates up the chain, and then the original sender get to reforward the message to the group and show that the message was sent.

      1. jag*

        I had someone ranting and raving to me and a colleauge about something that I was sure I told this person and her boss about but that this person claimed to have never heard of.

        To defuse/fix the situation we set up a phone call. In advance of that call I went looking for my original email, which I found. But even better, I found an email FROM this person to her boss (CC’ing me), rephrasing exactly what I had wrote to the two of them about.

        So I sent that back to her with simply saying “In advance of our call, here’s a note from you about where I think this left off.” She had to apologize to me on the phone.

    6. Anonathon*

      So much agree. Also … check further down in the email chain.

      It’s really awkward when you’re discussing something over email, the chain goes on a long time, and Person A says, “You never sent me this thing and that it why we are all stalled! So much anger!” And you have to say, “Um, please see below?”

  5. Phyllis*

    Another possibility is that she has set up rules regarding your emails and they are going directly into a folder without an original showing up in her inbox, because she missed checking/unchecking a box in the rules setup. I speak from experience. Oops.

    1. newbie in Canada*

      Yes! This.
      And if you by chance, delete the folder you have emails going to and don’t edit your rules, those emails disappear into voodoo neverland.

  6. Anna*

    I can see how this happens though – the advice is often to let things go and not be defensive and this happened in the extreme. Also, there are some bosses in denial about the way they manage people, and the fact they rush to judgment, and this may be the case here. She may have actual reason to worry because some bosses don’t react well to being corrected on things.

    1. alma*

      I agree — I think people can be legitimately fearful that the “actually, I didn’t make this mistake” conversation can come across as making excuses for yourself. No reasonable manager should take it that way if the employee presents solid evidence (like an e-mail trail) but, we don’t all work for reasonable people.

      1. Anonsie*

        I was going to say this. I have been expressly instructed to never point out when I haven’t actually made a mistake, I am to just say “I’m sorry.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s a bat-shit insane manager, then, or a miscommunication somewhere. Even halfway decent managers want to understand what is and isn’t working and, if things are going awry, what’s causing it.

        2. Miss Betty*

          Sometimes even when there is a mistake but you’re not the one that made it. I’ve always hated that – just because someone’s higher on the food chain shouldn’t mean I have to take the blame for their errors. (I’ll take the blame for my own, not for someone else’s – but saying that can give one a reputation for being defensive and refusing to admit to errors.)

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I am hoping it’s not your boss that told you that.
          For me it was the nuns that said that. It took me a while to learn they were wrong about a number of things and this was one. Do not shield people from their mistakes. They will never shield you. And you could end up taking the fall for something that someone else needs to take ownership of. Just as you need to learn, so do others.

      2. So Very Anonymous*

        Yes, and people can be fearful that the “actually, I didn’t make this mistake” conversation will be construed as blaming the boss, even if you have a paper trail, and if the boss is someone who cannot admit to making mistakes, even innocuous mistakes, and insists on blaming others (including you), there’s no good way to handle something like this. (Having flashbacks…)

        1. mirror*

          Yes! My boss is pretty cool but she is always forgetting what she said when something is her mistake. Her first reaction is always anger and denial.

          Me: “I combined two orders on one order sheet for this client. that okay?”

          Boss: yeah no problem!

          Me: customer is wondering where her second order is. Do you know whats going on?

          Boss: what?! I NEVER got that order. I have no knowledge of it and I have no idea what you are talking about.

          Me: *shows boss the sheet where second order was clearly marked, circled, and highlighted.*

          Boss: *gives long demeaning lecture about how I should never combine orders and why that was stupid of me.*

  7. AdAgencyChick*

    YES YES YES do what Alison says.

    Then you can have a conversation about whether you can do something to make sure your boss sees such emails — the “high importance” tag might help — but she’ll know that the problem is on her end and not sloppy work on yours. If I were your boss I’d want to know that for sure, and I’d be relieved that the issue is just my own disorganization and not a careless employee!

    1. MaryMary*

      I think approaching it as “how can I help make sure you see these emails” is a great way to approach it. I had a manager who recieved a ridiculous number of emails and ended up missing a ton of stuff. We worked out how to prioritize communication so she would see something that was really urgent. Instead of putting in the body of an email (titled Re: re: re: Fwd: re: Project X question) something I needed her input on, I would change the title of the email to be Amy: Response Needed on Project X Client Question. If it was REALLY urgent, then I might use caps, the high importance email button, and say when I needed a respond by. For non-client issues, like taking a sick day or if I was running late, it was better to text her. It made a world of difference and saved both of us a ton of frustration.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        Yeah, agreeing here too. I had a boss that used to ask us to do this when she was going to be working offsite during longer trips so that she could easily find things that needed her attention in the 200+ emails she received per day. It worked really well for our group. I can see this as being a way the OP can reopen the conversation by saying something like, “I could have sworn I sent an email about this, and when I checked my sent mail just now I see it in there, but it sounds like it either didn’t get to you or it got buried in amongst all of the other emails you receive. Is there a better way I can flag it for you or ensure it’s made its way to your inbox? I want to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

        I’ve been lucky to have pretty reasonable managers throughout my career, so maybe my experience is unique, but it generally works for me to frame it as a “how can we ensure this doesn’t happen in the future” to both a) point out that you hadn’t made the mistake (or had recognized there was an issue if it was something you couldn’t directly fix) and b) find a solution to avoid future occurrences.

  8. My 2 Cents*

    I had a boss once who accused me of not keeping him in the loop on something, so I went back and found the THREE emails where I had kept him in the loop on this item. When I showed him the three emails, he then started screaming at me for emailing him the information instead of just telling him, despite that we had a rule that we needed to email him because he forgets too much when you tell him things in person and not in writing.

    What a miserable human being he was.

    1. LabTech*

      Been there, done that. In my case he continued to reprimand me after I corrected him because I didn’t confirm with him that what he had just communicated to me was correct, rather than acknowledge his mistake. (How would that even look like? “Are you sure I’m supposed to do X?” where there’s nothing obviously wrong with X and no clear alternative Y that could also be done.) He even went so far as to refuse to look at the written communication, thereby allowing him to continue casting doubt on what he had said, despite that we both had it in writing.

      Me, still bitter? Couldn’t be.

      1. tt*

        If only all managers were as rationale as Alison. I can think of one former manager where you wouldn’t even bother showing her the email conversation. She’d flip out on your for contradicting her/calling her wrong, and wouldn’t even bother reading it, and make you feel incompetent and/or like you were going crazy.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I just want to be clear that what I’ve recommended above works with the majority of managers. It doesn’t work for all of them, because nothing works for 100% of people, but it certainly works for the majority, and I wouldn’t want the OP or anyone else to be scared off of doing this because some managers are crazy in this specific way.

          1. So Very Anonymous*

            Alison, having experienced this kind of craziness, I really appreciate this reality check. It’s good to know that this isn’t the norm!

        2. QK*

          Just because you had one crummy manager does not mean all managers suck.

          I say this as a rational manager who would be relieved if you alerted me to an email in my inbox I had missed. Many eyes see all bugs.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            Yeah, I’m not currently a manager but was in my previous role. I definitely would have wanted my team to point something like this out so I could identify issues in my own approach to email/inbox organizational process if nothing else.

            1. puddin*

              THIS. I find when I am wrestling with a “should I inform/remind/pull in the director” decision I play a quick role reversal in my brain. (Not out loud cause that would be weird.) When I give myself the green light, I usually say or write something like, “I figured you would want to know because I think I would if I were in your shoes.” or “If I did not tell you now, I know you would have come back to me and ask why I did not give you a heads up earlier.” I think it is a way to let them know that you are being respectful while also being thorough.

          2. tt*

            I don’t think anyone actually said “all” managers are awful. We were just referring to specific experiences we had.

        3. jag*

          If you play the way crazy managers want, then you have to be very very careful that their crazy doesn’t infect you.

          In the long-run, it’s dangerous to change to suit the crazies. In the short-run, do it if you have to, but keep reminding yourself that what you are doing is not good and do not let it become part of your general work style.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Exactly — one huge problem we often see here is when people adjust for crazy managers but then carry those habits with them to later jobs, where those habits end up really harming them.

            1. Molly*

              It’s the same thing that happens in relationships – the bad ones warp your reactions so you’re way less healthy when the next good one comes along!

              I had a boss a few years back who wouldn’t have responded well to this solution. I learned, early on, that he was a guy who would NEVER remember that you were right; only that you had disagreed with him. And he would let that disagreement fester and color future interactions. But if you just smiled and nodded and looked apologetic, he would never remember there’d been an issue to start with.

              I worked with him for five years, which was about four years longer than anyone else had ever lasted, and that was not the only bad habit I had to unlearn FAST at my next job.

        1. AMG*

          Me too. Particularly fun when he was drunk and that’s the reason he couldn’t remember anything. Funny part was that he absolutely hated it when I did what he asked. Why would I do that? What was I thinking? Uh, thinking it was time to get a new job!

    2. My two cents...*

      some people will go out of their way to project their own frustration or insecurities onto others. must be a miserable existence. : (

    3. Snarkus Ariellius*

      WARNING: this was a mean thing to do.

      Here’s what happened with a boss who acted in a similar way:

      X would insist that if anything time sensitive came up, we HAD to call her.  Do not email her because she didn’t always check her email when she was in meetings.  She’d send around an office email to let everyone know.  Then one of us would call her, as instructed, and she’d not answer or answer and demand to know why we were calling her because she was in a meeting and it was rude when her phone went off.  Then she’d send around another email, letting us know that we HAD to email her these things because she can’t always answer her phone.

      Fed up with this behavior, her assistant started a secret spreadsheet on a Google shared drive, documenting all the contradictory demands we got.  Nearly everyone (NOT ME!) contributed to it.  Then at an Xmas party, we opened it up, and the results were hilarious:

      10/22 – Never call X because she’s in a meeting and could disrupt things; email instead
      10/25 – Never email X because she won’t check it if she’s with other people; always call

      12/14 – Never interrupt X when she’s in a noon meeting to ask if she wants to order lunch
      12/20 – If X has a meeting over the noon hour, always X if she wants lunch ordered; X felt like staff were not being proactive

      3/10 – X wants Coworker A to FIRST proofread all correspondence that’s written on her behalf because she doesn’t want to be bothered with terrible first drafts

      3/25 – X wants to review all correspondence drafted on her behalf as her name, and not Coworker A, is on these letters

      1. AMG*

        Please tell me X was at the Christmas party when it was read! If not, I can only hope that someone got a copy to her to show what a gigantic ass she was.

        1. Snarkus Ariellius*

          Heh nope X never knew as far as I know.  (I haven’t worked there in awhile so who knows?)

          I felt so conflicted about the whole thing too.  Here was mostly her entire staff laughing at her behind her back and she didn’t know.  That’s so wrong, yet a lot of this was on her shoulders.  

          Like…think about the things you’re asking someone to do before you fire off an absolute?  (Her directives were always in absolutes.  I don’t know why.)  Don’t let your frustration get to you when you type emails to all staff?  Think about what you told this person to do last week on the same issue?

          I remember in one sitting, she criticized me for asking too many questions but then told me she didn’t think I was engaged in conversations with her because I was too quiet.  (To this day, I never could figure out which was it!)

          The spreadsheet was done for the assistant’s sanity.  (She changed the spot for where her mail should go six times in one year!)  Once we all saw X’s behavior in that format, everyone did a collective sigh and stopped taking things so personally.  While that did help us, it did nothing for X who probably had some legitimate feedback here and there but she wasn’t taken seriously because of everything else.

      2. Anonymous for this*

        I had a boss who told me (very angrily) that a) I asked too many questions, which she didn’t like, AND b) I didn’t ask enough questions and so I would end up in over my head and frustrated, which she also didn’t like. When I asked how I would know when I was supposed to ask questions and when not, she said, “You won’t.” I actually did start keeping track of the contradictory statements before I quit, not for fun but to cover my butt–I was documenting *everything* by the time I left. I still hyperventilate a little when I remember that job.

        1. Jenna*

          I also have had that job where you have to document all the procedure changes, and things changed all the time. I learned to make sure that even verbal instructions were confirmed by email so they’d be easily findable and dated.

    4. Mister Pickle*

      Argh. I literally cannot finish reading this column because I can feel my blood pressure rising.

      Sometimes I seriously think that “irrational boss” is a part of Original Sin that somehow got left out of the Bible:

      Genesis 2:19.5 “And when thou is given the least power over thy fellow man, thou shalt become as a braying ass.”

      Sorry. I know that not all people (or managers) suffer from this. But I’ve known too many that do.

  9. MaryMary*

    I struggle with this same issue with clients – especially when it’s not an issue of missing an email (or something that can be poltiely blamed on an email). For example, I had a client say a topic had never been brought up, when she had just responded to an email where I had talked about it (and the same topic had also been brought up in an earlier email and when we met in person). I usually say something like, “I could have sworn we talked about it before, but let’s go through it now.” But I’ve had a couple clients be really adamant and a defensive about being caught off guard, and I can’t figure out a polite way to say “we told you multiple times through multiple channels,” especially if we’re in front of other people in the client’s organization. If that happens, I chalk it up to being the fall guy, but it drives me nuts.

    1. Gene*

      Nope. If you told them and you have proof, even if they are the client who “is always right”, you quietly point out that they are wrong and here’s the proof. And then move on. Repeat as necessary.

      And the polite way to tell them is, “We discussed this multiple times on X, X, and X; here’s the email string.” I don’t see what is impolite about that. If you are in front of others in the organization you just wait until you’re not.

    2. QK*

      “I see here that I indeed sent you an email about teapot color last Friday. I’m so sorry you missed it and thought I hadn’t gotten in touch with you–is there some way I can help make my email stand out better in your inbox, perhaps a particular title will help it be more easily seen next time?”

      1. Frances*

        I like to add “Can you verify your contact info for me? Is [email address]/[mailing address] not the best place to reach you?” When people are just making an excuse for not paying attention, that usually drives home that you are paying attention to who is getting the info. However, in those rare cases where there actually **is** a problem, this generally clears it up. Sometimes people don’t realize they didn’t tell you their assistant changed, or that they moved.

        When I was working at a university, a visiting faculty member complained about never knowing anything that was going on — and then we established that they’d never checked their university email address (and had also never told us their personal one).

  10. NaCSaCJack*

    I would print the emails and show them to your director. Resending them electronically will cause them to go into the same black hole they did before. Showing her a copy allows you and she to have a frank conversation and discover where the black hole is, be it a spam folder, lost in transit or her own overloaded in-box.

  11. Maxwell Edison*

    Tread carefully when discussing this with your boss, OP. My manager interprets ANY explanation of why I did or didn’t so something as “being defensive.” (I’m not the only person on the team who gets tagged with the “defensive” labels so I’m guessing it’s more her issue than mine.) Once she even said I was being defensive when I paused while answering a question. Hopefully your manager has fewer issues than mine does.

    1. Alter_ego*

      I struggle with this. I got pegged as defensive at my last review, which is something I know I’ve been working on for a while, and I thought I’d become really good at just accepting corrections with an “okay, I’ll fix that now”. I asked for specific examples, and wasn’t given them, but I think what’s coming off as defensive is when senior coworker x asks me to do something, but senior coworker y is the one who checks it, and corrects something that was done to way senior coworker x told me to do it. So I say, “oh, I though coworker x said to make those lines green, not orange” because I want to make sure that coworker y understands why that decision was made, since he’s just checking over a project that he wasn’t actually involved in. And I think they’re reading that as defensive. So now I just don’t say anything at all

      1. JMR*

        I’ve gotten the same comment about being defensive as well. Even when speaking up about an email my manager might have overlooked, he will usually respond with why didn’t I call to make sure he received it or followed up with him.

      2. M&M*

        Yes, this drives me batty. I’ve been working hard on not being “defensive” but how do I answer when I send someone a document with a list of “Xs,” X being a bunch of ideas for X that they provided, and the response is “I’m not sure where you got this list from, but….” I want to say “Um, I got it from you!” Instead I kept quiet and just made the changes to the list that were requested, but I’m sure the person thinks I’m an idiot, and/or going rogue, making up the list of “Xs” on my own. Ugh. I’m happy to make the changes to the list, but I wish they would just say “Hey, can you replace x1 with x2?”

    2. anon for this*

      I always feel like I come off as defensive when I do this kind of thing! Recently, I had to repeatedly explain that the person who had messed up an old item was my predecessor, not me. The supervisor kept understanding that for a moment and then wandering back to thinking it was me, and I felt like I looked defensive every time I clarified the date the item was messed up.

    3. 2horseygirls*

      Yep, although my sin is being “passive-aggressive” when commenting that it is frustrating that there is little to no documentation on a system that has been in place for three years (nine cycles). I’m also “undermining” when inquiring if someone actually cancelled something that shows as active in the system.

      I’ve been very clear and direct (admittedly perhaps too much so) in the lack of communication that I have noticed in the office. Perhaps my manager doesn’t appreciate it being called out into the daylight?

  12. Kateyjl*

    Great advice.

    I know our managers get all kinds of emails and don’t get through it as quickly as we would like. Our group agreed to use a code in out subject lines to alert the manager that this was important to our group. It catches his eye. When we used Lotus Notes we used the the Good Job marker. Maybe something like that would help get your emails noticed. Just don’t use the exclamation point (important) indicator. Too many people use that on everything so it becomes meaningless.

  13. Michele*

    When I have this situation come up I just attach the original e-mail to the “Why didn’t you let me know e-mail”, with a short note stating please see attached e-mail in regards to the below call out. I deal with this issue all the time with my oversea’s offices and sometimes my director. 9 times out of 10 my director is like oops sorry missed that e-mail and appreciates that I called it out. My oversea’s offices on the other hand are just trying to get more time to get samples out!

  14. Not your mistake*

    Piling on to agree with AAM’s advice. This type of thing has happened to me in the past, and it turned out to be a technical issue. One of my Big Bosses had missed a bunch of emails from me, and we didn’t figure it out until I got 5 questions that I’d already answered. Another time, we figured out that her assistant was putting links to files for review in her calendar notifications, as dictated by Big Boss’s standard protocol, but for some reason, Big Boss wasn’t looking at the calendar notifications to find the files. Instead, she just assumed I hadn’t sent the file, and skipped over her reviews. She’s a busy lady, so she is never accusatory about stuff like this, but it’s good to mention that you’ve sent the email so that you can find errors in process, communications, or technology sooner rather than later. My direct manager is always buried by email, so during our weekly sync, she’ll generally just ask me if there’s anything that I’ve sent that’s awaiting a response. Again, NOT accusatory, just realizing her own crazy inbox. If your manager is generally reasonable, you should definitely point it out and ask how to handle these things in the future to ensure things don’t get lost in email.

  15. TotesMaGoats*

    Another piler to say talk to your boss and don’t let that happen again. It’s not helping either one of you. I had bosses who would miss things in emails themselves in addition to entire emails. So, I started doing a summary in bold of the things I needed done or questions answered. She really appreciated it because it clearly identified her tasks. And those times when she missed a whole email, I would forward from my sent file so it was clearly time-stamped.

  16. Lisa*

    Anyone ever deal with a boss that insists that you are wrong even with evidence like email back-up? My old boss would do this. I would end up saying, but your email said to do it this way… and I would gesture to get up to send him the email. He would waive his hand and say, ‘no i didn’t, do not try to alleviate your mistake’. Essentially, he would shut me down before I could correct him. So that even giving the correct info / backup evidence is like a betrayal of his ‘truth’. This boss made me completely distrustful of all my bosses since then. Made me question myself even when I know the truth and have proof since I got into the habit and saving everything and doing all communication via email so he can’t claim it wasn’t discussed or said in a meeting or call. Some bosses, you can’t argue. You can’t convince them that the grass is green, when your boss insists its neon orange and makes you feel horrible even attempting to correct them as if you are questioning their authority. I don’t work there anymore, but all my comments on AAM are related to that job as I feel very scarred by it.

    1. Anonsie*

      This is what I was going to ask. How do you keep diplomatically handling this when you have a manager who is both prone to assuming you’ve screwed up and gets upset if you point out that you haven’t?

      I had a string of these once where I was told I had not done several things I had indeed finished and sent out already, or hadnt spoken to someone I had indeed already met with. Every time I clarified to make sure we were talking about the same thing (“The x report? That’s done and went out to Joebob on Tuesday, is it maybe the y report that’s missing? What did Joebob say?”) but I was told this is back talk and “attitude” and I should only ever just say I’m sorry and fix it. I said I’m just trying to figure out what’s happened when I think x is happening but then I’m told there’s a problem I didn’t know about so I can understand what’s going on, but apparently that’s defensiveness and insubordination.

        1. Anonsie*

          Well, the universe won’t implode on you if it happens, so it’s definitely possible to just have to take that feedback and keep working with it in mind regardless of how you feel about it. I just never know what to do when I get feedback (as I have in so many jobs) telling me to do something that a reasonable person would not do. Keep behaving normally and continue to draw ire? Behave strangely and potentially cultivate a reputation for that? No-win, was Kelly L says above, but you still have to pick one.

          And yeah “new job,” etc, but realistically you are sometimes going to have to navigate situations like this.

      1. wanderlust*

        I once had a boss argue with me about a decision I made (really an order I followed) even though I showed him the note where he had HANDWRITTEN the instructions that I followed. IN HIS HANDWRITING.

    2. Relosa*

      My bosses are insanely disorganized and overworked and I have to deal with this all the time.

      Unfortunately the only coping advice I have is to just apologize and state what you can do to prevent it from happening, or ask how they would prefer you clarify any gray areas.

      Hugs…! Those kinds of bosses are really hard to work with – but if nothing else remember that you will learn a lot from them. That’s one of the ways I console myself when my boss has left me nearly in tears or screams at me in a conference call for things that aren’t even my area of responsibility.

      1. jag*

        I know super-overworked people for whom there is no need to apologize when they miss something. They recognize the situation.

        If, however, they give clear instructions on how to communicate with them which you don’t follow (or if you communicate in a way that does not respect their time and the demands on their time – ie writing concisely, making it clear what is important and what needs their input, etc), then you might need to apologize when things go wrong.

        1. Relosa*

          My bosses neither recognize the workload is too much for everyone, nor admit responsibility when it is theirs. And they are awful at giving directions, communicating changes in policy/procedure, or even just general expectations.

          1. Lisa*

            The boss I am talking about also does this stuff:
            -Says that it is the employees fault for over-giving and not being able to prioritize not that the workload is too much or that expectations are unreasonable.
            -Responding to all clients within an hour creating a system where every client thinks they can get immediate help and that anything can be done within that timeframe so they stop asking weeks in advance, because the boss created instant expectations.
            -Having one manager tell employees that docs are not required per call or meeting as we are consultants, but then have the owner get upset that you had ‘nothing prepared’ for a call / meeting that they were a part of.
            -Expecting complex documents to be whipped up in 1-2 days without realizing how long it takes to complete
            -Expecting complex docs to be completed x5 clients all within the same week.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      I think with the worst of this type of boss, there’s nothing you can do.

      With a less virulent strain, so to speak, it may be possible to get through to him if you present the issue as a problem you want to help solve, rather than a difference between what you think and what he thinks. I can see some bosses who respond poorly to “Actually, I did send you that email” because they feel so sure of themselves and immediately go to a place of “I feel stupid/forgetful,” so they react angrily — but who might respond better to an approach of, “I think my emails might be getting buried because I know you get a million of them every day. Should I be writing my subject lines differently?” (or insert other suggestion) Because then the boss doesn’t feel “my employee is pointing out something wrong with me,” but rather, “My employee is trying to fix this unfortunate situation.”

      Not all of the time, unfortunately. There really are unreasonable people who will believe what they believe regardless of how the facts are presented to them. But this tack might work for some.

    4. puddin*

      I honestly do not know if this is ‘good’ advice but I’ll shoot this out here…

      When a manager stops you from proving your point you should push on. Calmly say, “This is important for us to get correct right? To fully resolved it so that everyone agrees lets take 3 minutes to make sure we all know what the problem is/what was said/what was agreed to.” Arguing with a “Yes I did!” might seem defensive. However, if you can negotiate 3 minutes to look up your records and gain a better understanding, that might perceived as less defensive. I would have continued to get up and find what I needed to verify the information regardless of the dismissive gestures. I have been called ‘bossy’ too soooo YMMV

      Why three minutes? Its small, specific, finite, and do-able.

      1. Lisa*

        Unfortunately, this boss is one of those that isn’t listening, but counting and can’t wait to say ‘that was more than 3 minutes’.

      2. Adonday Veeah*

        In a perfect world, this would be a perfect solution. But if you work for a nutjob (and I have) this will just piss ’em off even worse. Because the last thing they want to do is fix the situation. There is no room for them to be right if you’re having an adult conversation.

  17. Relosa*

    I am the master of doing this as all three of my bosses do this to me a lllll the time. I feel bad but sometimes it ends up as a gotcha or self-defense because they get so incensed that they missed an email I sent to them immediately.

  18. Miss Kitty Fantastico*

    One more comment agreeing with AAM! We do this in our office ALL the time – most of us get hundreds of emails a day (ugh) and it’s just a given that some will slip through the cracks. We’re all vigilant about following up for this reason, too – most of the time the response is something along the lines of “I’m so sorry! Your original email got buried in my inbox” and no one has a second thought about it.

  19. Sherm*

    OP, I used to be just like you. VERY non-confrontational. I was afraid that correcting someone, even gently, would make them irritated and annoyed, and I would be seen as a back-talking troublemaker. But it is not the case! You will feel great about being honest, and people will understand and respect you.

  20. HR Manager*

    Agree as well. If your boss is now having trouble keeping up with email, you can even broach the topic by asking, is there another way you would prefer I handle this or communicate this to you next time?

  21. Ann Furthermore*

    This is really good advice, OP, and it’s important that you speak up. Otherwise it will just keep on bugging you.

    It can feel like you’re being confrontational or defensive when you correct things like this, but you’re really not — you’re just setting the record straight. But my first reaction is to just say, “OK,” and move on, and it’s something I continually have to remind myself not to do.

    Last year in my review, my manager had a comment about the go-live date for the project I was working on being pushed at the last minute. This caused all kinds of discussion and angst. My manager’s comment was something like, “Ann is afraid to speak up when she thinks something is wrong,” which is really not true. I, and my co-worker, had brought issues to the attention of the executive steering committee, and recommended pushing the go-live date 3 months before the decision was made. But when we suggested that, we were told it was absolutely not an option.

    During my review I told my boss, “The only thing here that I really disagree with is this comment. Co-worker and I both said that we felt that the go-live date was way too aggressive, and we wanted to consider pushing it by 60-90 days. But we were told that was not an option and there was no way that was going to happen.” My boss and I had a good discussion about that — she said that she probably should have known that, and I said that I probably should have had a conversation with her to make sure she was aware of what had happened. It was really good — we cleared things up, and talked about how to handle it next time.

    If I had just said, “OK,” and let it go, my manager would still be thinking that I’m afraid to speak up when I think something is wrong, and I’d still be irked about an incorrect comment in my review.

    1. Judy*

      “You didn’t tell us the project was in trouble.”

      Shows multiple technical project reviews documenting recommendation to push date, with direction from business team to continue on current schedule.

      “Well, you didn’t tell us often and loud enough.”

      Never seen that happen. ;)

  22. HR Dave*

    Totally agree with everyone that it’s not doing you any favors to pretend you made these mistakes. It can, however, be awkward to set the record straight once you’ve “admitted” to them. I’d go with something like this:

    “Hey, boss – I was thinking about those errors that we talked about, and trying to understand how I missed them. So I searched my email to see what I might have been focusing on instead and I found that I actually did catch those errors and send emails to let you know. But it looks like for whatever reason they didn’t make it to you. Since it looks like emails aren’t proving that reliable for us, is there a better method for letting you know about these edits that might avoid these miscommunications in the future? I was thinking of xxx as something that might be worth a try.”

  23. Student*

    Perhaps email is not an appropriate communication medium to convey the type of problem you are having. Not all communication methods are created equal, and it’s important to recognize and respond appropriately when a specific method is failing to meet your needs.

    If your boss no longer reads emails as thoroughly as needed to catch and address important problems, pick a communication method that is more likely to get her attention and proportional to the importance of the problem. Maybe you need to make a phone call when you catch these. Maybe you need to drop by her desk, or leave a paper notification for her. Maybe you need to ask for the delegated authority to fix the error without her direct involvement, because her duties have expanded and she can’t keep up with this particular one. Maybe there’s another method you could use, like a work ticket system to track changes and route them for approvals and then for implementation.

    1. CheeryO*

      Surprised to see this so far down. I love email, but my boss “loses” emails all the time, so I just don’t use e-mail very often to communicate with her. It’s inefficient and obnoxious and leads to a lot of wasted paper and interruptions, but that’s how she operates.

    2. NJReader*

      I agree that continued reliance on emails to notify this person of errors may continue to cause issues, unless it’s some sort of technical glitch that can be corrected. Perhaps offer to stop by in person, give them a ring, or drop off a print out of the email if you don’t get a timely response to make sure they are aware of the error and that it was corrected? It requires more work on your part but might be worth it to keep your reputation intact as well as prevent the “but I did email you about it…” conversation after the fact.

  24. Mike B.*

    Apologies if this was pointed out above (too much to read in detail on the lunch hour), but as a manager I’d like to point out that one of the reasons we call people’s mistakes explicitly to their attention IS so that they can correct the record if necessary. We’re notifying the employee that we’ve identified something that could potentially be held against them at review time; more often than not we’d be thrilled to be able to take it out of their “bad” file. I’ve even on one occasion had an employee vindicate himself and our department so thoroughly that I brought it up as a point in his favor later that year.

    1. Monodon monoceros*

      I’m not sure you mean it this way, but this seems like a good way for your employees to be on the defense all the time. Kind of like they are all guilty until they prove their innocence.

  25. Bea W*

    This has happened to me though it has never occurred to me not speak up in the moment because I tend to be surprised and a bit worried I either goofed or the message got lost. “I emailed you about that on Monday. Did you not receive it?” I usually end up finding the email and forwarding it, not so much to clear the air but because it’s information my boss wants and she usually asks me to send it again. My boss’ inbox is insane. So there’s no drama or shock to my boss when someone says they did something she thinks they missed.

    Definitly correct the record. Don’t let your boss think you made a mistake when you didn’t, and work with her to make a plan if she doesn’t respond in x days, to takeit on yourself follow-up so that you can avoid this in the future. Are there some things you can correct directly without waiting on her response? You could suggest for certain things you can make the corrections and just send her an email to let her know but in more iffy cases to continue to wait for her input. I don’t know if that is appropriate for your work, but if it is your boss may appreciate this solution to take some burdrn off of her.

  26. Various Assumed Names*

    I had a boss that I always played this game with. She was an insecure narcissist who could never be wrong about anything. I’m very good at sucking it up, so I never corrected her when she was wrong (I can take criticism, right?)

    It made her hate me less in the short term, but once all those “mistakes” added up, I came out looking unreliable. I thought I was doing the right thing, given her childish personality, but it wasn’t worth it in the end.

  27. AnonyMouse*

    Not to pile on, but another reason to take Alison’s advice is that if you really did send those emails to your director and you don’t correct her now, she might well find them later and be annoyed that you didn’t say anything. I had a similar situation happen at an earlier job – basically, I did the same task twice to avoid telling my manager she was wrong, she eventually noticed and she was mildly exasperated with me for wasting my time and letting her be incorrect without saying anything. Most reasonable managers (and even some unreasonable ones) would much rather just hear a gentle correction in the type of language Alison used than see you pretend to have made a mistake.

  28. Not So NewReader*

    I would definitely talk to the boss, OP. She sounds approachable with you. But, I would print out my original meals. I would go into the conversation from the angle of “I am concerned that something is wrong with our email system and you are not receiving my emails because of it.”

    As far as how to address the turn around in attitude- I would simply say “I really thought that I had sent you those corrections, so I double checked my email and here is what I found.”

    I would not have this conversation in email, I would do it in person. Be low key. Act concerned, remember you are a good employee and you are just looking for solutions. This isn’t about who is right or who is wrong, it’s about doing a good job.

    1. teclatwig*


      Although I personally would have shared proof of my good work behavior the first time this happened, I can also be a bit tone deaf in pursuit of Truth. Especially if you have a somewhat difficult manager and are more inclined to move forward, I don’t think it was necessarily terrible not to say anything the first time. (Note: I think you should set the record straight whenever possible for the reasons Alison outlined. But still, it’s a strategy with merit in some situations.). However, once this has happened twice, it becomes a problem to be solved, not merely an accusation to defend against.

      At this point, I think you should approach this not as defending yourself against hurtful accusations, but as identifying an important breakdown in communication. You are being a *fixer* by mentioning it to her. List some really good “no-fault” possibilities — email getting caught in spam folder, rules sending it into a black hole. Offer to investigate, then suggest ways to improve communication (or ask what she would prefer, if the emails were sitting in her inbox and just not being read). Don’t focus on “I didn’t mess up,” but on the communication breakdown.

  29. Purr purr purr*

    I’d correct her and tell her that actually you had emailed her. If she asks why you didn’t say so at the time she was telling you about the problem, you could say that you wanted to check first to be sure you were giving her accurate information. Then you can tell her the date and time you emailed her and even forward her a copy from your sent email folder, assuming they’re still there. There’s absolutely no way that I’d ever let something like this go. I did once when I was younger and not particularly confident and it came back to bite me on the butt. I’d rather someone thought of me as being defensive about making mistakes (when I know I didn’t make them, if I did then I graciously accept that fact) then to be thought of as a person who slips up repeatedly.

  30. Sue Wilson*

    It sounds like you’re afraid your supervisor will start treating you like she may be treating everyone else. The fact of the matter it, it behooves you to treat your supervisor as reasonable until she proves otherwise.

  31. Mister Pickle™*

    I agree completely with AAM’s advice to OP: the record needs to be corrected, and now.

    This is how I would handle it:

    1. Make a timeline of the dates and times of

    – When you caught / corrected mistake #1
    – When you emailed director about mistake #1
    – When director spoke to you about mistake #1
    – When you caught / corrected mistake #2
    – When you emailed director about mistake #2
    – When director spoke to you about mistake #2

    2. Print out your emails to director re mistakes #1 and #2. (At this point I will say: note the Subject: line of these emails. If it was something more like “Re: BBQ next Friday” and less like “Correction: Mistake #1”, then you should consider that yes, you contributed to the situation by not using an appropriate Subject: line. Not trying to give you grief, OP)

    3. At this point you should have 3 sheets of paper: timeline, email #1, and email #2.

    4. Stop by director’s office (or otherwise get a few minutes of her time where she’s sitting in front of her computer and can access her email) and say “[Director], I’m trying to track down a problem, may I bend your ear for 2 minutes?”

    5. She (hopefully) says “yes”.

    6. “I’m concerned that there might be a glitch in our email connection. Over the past N weeks, I sent you two emails about problems I corrected – but you later asked me about these same problems.” At this point you can share your papers with her. “Can I trouble you to quickly check to see if these two emails made it through to you?”

    7. While she’s checking: “The first time this happened, I figured it was just one of those random glitches. But the second time, I thought I should try to figure out what is going on.”

    8. From here on, you kinda play it by ear. Ideally, she finds the emails in her inbox and says “oops”. This might provide an opening for you to ask if there’s anything you can do to make these kinds of emails stand out in the future? Or maybe she can’t find the emails, and there is a legitimate IT problem that needs to be addressed. Or maybe she’s unwittingly SPAM-blocking you.

    Throughout all of this, it’s important that you adopt an earnest attitude that says “I’m attempting to track down a bug”. And this shouldn’t be difficult, because I think that that is exactly what you are trying to do. You don’t want to play the “blame game”, you don’t want your director to grovel or anything like that. You just want to clear up a snag in your communications.

    I hope this helps some. Others may have input or criticism of this script, and if so, it’s probably worthwhile to ponder what they have to say. But this is, I think, how I would handle the situation myself.

    [My apologies if I am repeating anyone else’s suggestion(s); I’m not joking when I say that I found this column to be difficult reading. I’m not some shy, delicate flower, but there were a lot of “triggers” in here, esp as relates to irrational bosses].

  32. OP*

    OP here.

    I took this advice and let her know that I did in fact email her. When I forwarded her the original emails she was able to see that and said ok. She was back to being nice again so I think we’re fine. I asked her if there was a better way to communicate in the future but she said no, just keep going about it the same way.

    I was only nervous to bring it up because of how I’ve seen her react to other people but I was lucky I guess that she was ok with me.

    Thanks to everyone here for the advice. I’m only a few years out of college and I’m still working on speaking up but I realize sometimes it’s necessary.

  33. AW*

    This is such a great idea for a thread but the example problem is relatively minor/straightforward. Can we do a column or address what to do when the issue at hand is much more significant – such as a coworker blaming you for something you didn’t do (and your boss believing them) and the stakes are high. Thanks for the column!

    1. Mary*

      I agree AW, especially if that co-worker is your boss! Mine asks me to do ABC, so I do ABC, then she turns round and says No, I asked you to do XYZ. I make notes and it still doesn’t help. I’m keeping a diary with dates and times because I’m so fed up with her doing this ‘gaslighting’ thing.

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