how to correct your boss

A reader writes:

How do you recommend correcting your manager when they say something you know is incorrect? This could range from minor details to larger concepts — for example, pronouncing a client’s name wrong, or mentioning incorrect dates for future projects.

I know my manager is balancing a lot, and her occasional inaccuracies are not ill-intentioned. I want to avoid seeming like I know it all (I don’t) or becoming a “Well, actually…” person around the office. At the same time, if I were the manager, I would hope my employees would say something if what I were saying is untrue. Any tips? (For the record, this is more in one-on-one conversations, rather in larger all-hands meetings.)

With a decent manager, you really don’t need to be particularly delicate about it! You can handle it the same way you would with a colleague — meaning a fairly matter-of-fact response like, “Oh, she actually pronounces it Dee-anna, not Diana” or “Oh, it’s on January 15, not the 30th — does that change anything?”

With bigger things — for example, maybe your boss says the client wants strategy X when you heard them say they want strategy Y — just ask about it, building in the assumption that she might have context you don’t (like maybe the client later changed their mind). So you’d say something like, “Just to make sure, are we doing X? When I was on the call, they were talking about Y — but you might have more recent info than I do.” Or, if there’s no way she’d have more recent info because you just talked to them five minutes ago or whatever: “I think they actually want Y! They were talking about Y just now — is it worth one of us confirming with them?”

The key in all these examples is to sound completely dispassionate — you’re not invested in being right or in her being wrong, you’re just offering info she might not have or might have forgotten.

Beyond that, the easiest way to make this weird is to act like you think it’s a big deal to correct her. That signals you think she’s a prima donna who requires special handling or that she can’t handle minor, routine corrections. When you’re working with another person, sometimes they’ll have a brain blip or just not realize something. It’s normal! If you raise it so hesitantly or delicately that I can see you’re worried about my reaction, I’m going to be concerned that (a) I’ve done something to make you think you need to handle me with kid gloves or (b) you’re so intimidated by authority that I can’t rely on you to easily volunteer the info I need to do my job.

So don’t sound wary! And don’t sound annoyed (that’s rude) or excited to catch a mistake (also rude) or surprised she doesn’t know (she’s human).

The tone you want is matter-of-fact (it’s not a big deal, just part of working collaboratively) and warm (because you’re respect her and are happy to contribute to both of you getting the work right).

Even with a non-decent manager, you can often proceed this way. People tend to take their cues from you, so if you say it like of course it’s no big deal to offer the correct info — just like it’s no big deal to, say, adjust a printer setting so ink doesn’t spew into someone’s face — often even crappy bosses won’t take it weirdly.

{ 104 comments… read them below }

  1. Taryn*

    Haha, my leadership team correctly me all the freaking time, I guess I must be at least kind of decent, because they clearly aren’t afraid to correct me at all! It probably helps that I have a terrible memory and I know it, so I’m honestly just glad they have my back!

    1. I Herd the Cats*

      Touching tangentially on this, which I haven’t seen addressed in comments — OP says this is generally in one-on-one meetings with boss.

      Is there a chance boss is simply mis-speaking, rather than working off incorrect information? Put differently — is it something that needs to be corrected at all, if it’s in passing and between the two of you?

      My co-worker can’t resist the urge to correct the slightest mis-statement on my part, even when it’s clear what I meant and no incorrect information is going to suddenly flow from me to others. Examples: I say “we’re meeting Tuesday with ABA group” and he says “it’s ABA Inc.” Or, I say, I’ve gone ahead and reserved the Llama conference room for this event” and he says “don’t you mean the Orca Room?” although we’re talking about an event that could ONLY fit in the Orca room, so yes, of course that’s what I reserved. Harrumph.

    2. MsMaryMary*

      I think at a certain level, managers almost expect someone else to keep an eye on the details. If your boss is super busy and/or senior, they may need someone to remind them the client meeting is on the 15th, or that the Geller proposal is due this Friday but the Bing proposal isn’t due until next Wednesday. I had conversations like this at least once a day at my last job (soooo much managing up) and it was rarely an issue. Occasionally I got someone who pretended they hadn’t forgotten about the Geller proposal, but that was about it.

  2. Ingray*

    I once corrected my old boss on an IT issue and for the rest of all time every time something tech-related came up she would say, with maximum passive-aggression, “Well, Ingray, since you are *so* much better with technology than me…” I hope OP’s boss handles things better. -_-

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Some people have fragile egos, they do exist but yeah, that’s not the normal way to respond to someone giving you a heads up that they made an error once.

      That’s just some manipulation in play. Yeah, shame on you for catching that mistake, feel shaaaaaaaame, let me insult your intelligence.

      Guess what, even actual geniuses need corrections sometimes. They didn’t come out of the GD sky with all that intelligence, they still had to learn it somewhere and sometimes you learn the wrong thing or go the wrong direction.

      Don’t fear the fragile ego, just take note and avoid them whenever possible. It’s just like people who yell or have other over the top reactions to every day things. Like the weather or a computer glitch.

    2. TrainerGirl*

      My boss has a fragile ego and is petty AF. Even if he says something incorrect in writing, he will twist himself into knots to say he was right. It used to drive me crazy, but now that other people have seen him do this, it’s pretty hilarious. I’m not sure why admitting that you misspoke or got a detail wrong is so impossible for some people, but apparently it is.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I would and I have taken a private moment to say, “I do not feel that I am better at X than anyone. I’d like to make sure that is clear. I happened to pick up on this one little detail that I knew could be easily fixed. It’s not my intention to step on anyone’s toes. I hope other people would tell me if the situation were reversed.”

      The trick here is to respond to the remark within the first few times you hear it. With my own bad boss, they knew that if they made that remark again, I’d be in for another chat. My second chat would go more like, “We work to dang hard to do the same thing twice. We can do it once and get it right on the first shot. My goal is to try to prevent us from doing things twice if we don’t have to.”
      This stuff works really well if you are a good or high performer. Your outputs prove that you know what you are doing and talking about most of the time.

  3. CmdrShepard4ever*

    You should send a company wide email: “Hear Ye hear ye on Tuesday November 14th at approximately 1:43 pm boss person Warbleforth said XYZ, they were wrong the correct info is ABC. Everyone can no go back to their regularly scheduled programming.”

    You need to let your boss know that you are catching their mistakes, and you should let higher ups in the company know that you have gumption this will look great when it comes to promotion time!

      1. Amber Rose*

        There’s gotta be some way to program the all computers to broadcast trumpets when people open that email.

            1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

              I’m thinking the ‘ding ding ding ding’ used by Principal McGee over the PA system in Grease…

  4. Dasein9*

    This can get really interesting when dealing with people from multiple cultures. I work in the US for an Indian-owned company and notice on international calls that corrections are often made in a more roundabout way than in the US. They’re still communicated, but the standards for courtesy are different and good managers do a lot of code switching.

    1. Barbara Eyiuche*

      I noticed this when I worked in China and South Korea. You were definitely not supposed to correct the boss, as he or she would then lose face. Even very minor corrections that I would not think twice about back home had to be handled very delicately. Doing something better than a higher-up was also not a good look.

    2. Artemesia*

      I have worked in the Middle East and as a woman — and correcting those high in the hierarchy who were very invested in being seen as expert to their staff was very delicate. I had one guy who ‘didn’t need the training’ but was ‘sitting in to support his staff’ who invariably volunteered comments that were 90% of the time totally wrong. I was designing activities where it was very hard to be wrong but he still managed. I also depended on him to use his influence to fix a problem with travel I had and this was taking weeks to accomplish and he could torpedo it with just backing away and not going to bat for me. I couldn’t let it stand but I couldn’t ever say he was wrong. So there was this little dance about how he had an advanced degree, and was dealing with VERY sophisticated concepts a bit beyond the scope of our training and so while he was profound in this very advanced kind of situation that was different than the simpler situation we were dealing with here where a less advanced strategy might work better. It was important that no one lose face, but it took all my creativity to make sure he didn’t.

      Early on I thought he was challenging me with his questions and trying to make me lose face, but I soon realized he just wanted to show off his superior knowledge and once I realized that I was able to support his ability to do that without derailing the class. And when I got questions, particularly statistical questions that were a bit beyond the scope of the class, I would always refer the trainees to him as he ‘has a masters in psychology and is a great resource for you on that.’ Always within his hearing of course.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        Ugh. This sounds exhausting! But every culture is unique. There are undoubtedly practices here in the West that outsiders would regard as equally exhausting that we probably just consider to be “the way things are done.”

    3. JKP*

      This reminds me of the chapter in Superfreakonomics about preventing airplane crashes. The most and worst crashes were in countries with a high-respect culture where the co-pilot would never dare to presume to question the pilot and would rigidly adhere to the chain of command. So mitigating crashes included a set protocol for correcting your boss:
      “Airlines teach a standardized procedure for copilots to challenge the pilot if he or she thinks something has gone terribly awry. (“Captain, I’m concerned about…” Then, “Captain, I’m uncomfortable with…” And if the captain still doesn’t respond, “Captain, I believe the situation is unsafe.” And if that fails, the first officer is required to take over the airplane.)”

    4. corporate engineering layoff woo*

      Yes! I’ve heard about this from some now-former colleagues who had this from every level of international colleagues. The response to “do you understand this?” was always “yes”, even if that also meant the person would come back an hour later with an obvious lack of understanding about the topic. Don’t underestimate the significance of cultural saving face about being incorrect or uncertain.

  5. She's One Crazy Diamond*

    One thing I’d add is if you’re correcting your boss, do it privately if possible. It allows them to save face and to control how they communicate their mistake to the team or clients if that’s necessary. I learned this by correcting my supervisor in front of other people at a meeting, it was a minor thing and I didn’t think it was a big deal, but he was pretty cold to me until we had a chance to talk and he explained that I embarrassed him. Now YMMV since the dynamics of me being a young woman and him being a middle aged man may have been relevant to that.

    1. banzo_bean*

      I think it’s dependent on the situation. If you’re in a client meeting or even certain internal meetings and your boss repeatedly keeps making the same mistake, I would try to address it at the time.
      If I was in a meeting with a vendor and the lead said something incorrect several times and no one corrected them I would get a way worse impression than if the lead said something wrong and junior team member politely corrected them.

      1. Filosofickle*

        Agreed. If it is something inconsequential, not saying something in front of others is wise. However, I’m not going to stay quiet if they’re making an important factual error — incorrectly describing a deadline / capability / deliverable — if that means a meeting full of people are going to walk away with wrong information that affects the work.

  6. Socrates Johnson*

    My boss can be challenging, so I usually put things in a question. When she is mad I also sometimes act curious and ask questions and she immediately settles down. May be a power thing with her, may just be she is on the defensive otherwise, may be that I’m actually now pointing out how she is wrong and she is realizing it but does not know that I am realizing it? Anyway, it sucks I have to play these games, but a good technique.

    1. Heidi*

      I do this too. “Oh, is it wingardium levio-SAH? I thought it was wingardium levi-OH-sa. Good to know!” The boss can decide if they want to double-down on the incorrect answer, but at least you put the opportunity to be correct out there.

      1. Socrates Johnson*

        It’s easier for them to just say…OH yeah, that’s correct. They feel like they are telling YOU something.

      2. yala*

        That’s how I try to go about it, but I got a reputation for being argumentative early on (I remember there was an old letter here that could have been written by me, about communication issues–when I would try to explain my thought process, what I *meant* was: “okay, here’s my understanding of it, so where is the place I went wrong” and what I was *perceived* as saying was: “no, MY way is better”), so it’s always a crapshoot how well it goes down.

        I dunno. Sometimes it’s ok, sometimes it’s not. And my boss always seems upset when I have receipts (I’m never trying to bring them up as a “gotcha” which she seems to think, but just to, y’know, CYA, since sometimes I get conflicting messages. She’s got a lot on her plate and it’s a very detail-oriented job, and sometimes even she gets wires crossed, so it’s good to have old correction records to refer to, but… *shrug*)

        …heck, there’s one thing I’ve been sitting on for a while, because when I tried the question method, I just got shut down really firmly, but applying her instructions to the particular issue just…isn’t feasible in the long-term (an issue is it’s been done incorrectly in our system for a while, so it WILL need to be fixed at some point, which I’m happy to do, but if we keep doing it that way, we’re going to run into issues. I mean, already are.) Fortunately, it’s not time-sensitive. But.


        1. yala*

          tho tbh, I make way more mistakes than I should. So these cases are few and far between, but it kind of means that it stresses me out even more because I know I don’t have the best standing to say anything, but after I triple check, there’s usually nothing else to do.

      3. JSPA*

        Useful variant is the “I’m not sure” memory. “I have a vague memory of them changing the date to the 28th or the 29th, rather than the 14th. Let me check on that quickly.”

        “That reminds me: I’ve heard our people say both Dee-nah and Die-nah. I’ve been using Dee-nah while you’re using Die-nah. Let me check if she has a preference, and let the team know.”

    2. Mel_05*

      Yes, I used to do this with touchy coworkers. I still had one get upset and say I was trying to get her fired because I discreetly double checked with someone else. I was -trying- not to make her look stupid in front of a client, but sure.

    3. banzo_bean*

      See, this is something I naturally do when trying to correct anyone, and it can backfire when you know something is wrong but ask them rather than state it. Then I’m left feeling indignant for no reason. It’s the same with saying “Oh I think I heard x” when I know for a fact x. It’s just one of those bad passive habits I’ve developed.

      I’ve been trying to not do this anymore, no matter the situation, but with a particularly tetchy boss I can see how it could help.

      1. Auntie Social*

        I do “I’ve seen X done” when I know X is the ONLY solution. Then if no one says or does anything I say “well, let’s see what happens if I do X” and go ahead. There are times that “It’s X, get out of my way!” is the answer—but not with a touchy boss.

  7. Amber Rose*

    Is there a good way to tell your manager they’re wrong about something they’re very emotional about?

    My boss was very upset yesterday about some things she thinks are happening that aren’t, or at least not to the scale that she thinks they are. I tried to gently suggest that she might be reading too much into things, but you also don’t really wanna tell an upset person that you think they’re overreacting. That has never gone down well in the history of humanity.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I like to ask questions in those situations.

      “What makes you think that?”
      “Did they say [whatever]?”

      1. Stephanie*

        This is good. I use this technique daily dealing with emotional kids. It acknowledges their feelings while opening a dialogue about what actually happened.

    2. CM*

      I think the best approach is to validate the feeling completely separately from questioning the facts — with anyone, not just a manager. “Wow. I can definitely see why that would be upsetting. To be honest, I haven’t seen what you’re describing.” And then just generally try to take the stance that you want to be an ally in finding out the truth, even if you’re skeptical of her initial conclusions. So, rather than just saying, “Nah, I don’t think that’s happening,” maybe suggest a way that you can test or monitor to see if it’s happening or not.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My boss is a big worrier. So the way I approach it carefully and kindly. You don’t have to say “You’re overreacting” but you approach in a way that tells them “I’ve seen this before and the actual outcome was much better than you think!”

      My boss also reacts well to being told “See this is happening everywhere, it’s not just us.” well as well. Say sales dropped and “OMG we’re doomed.” no, we’re not. Historically this has been a slow season and it always picks up after the holidays. So just with that kind of wide range of “The sky is not falling, it’s just raining.” can be of some help.

      But some people will just never be able to be soothed either, so if you try and it goes weird, do not feel bad for pulling back and not going down that road again.

      You validate their feelings as noted and then you try to steer them away from the ledge they think they’re on, carefully pointing out it’s just a curb.

      1. banzo_bean*

        Yeah also some people need to hear something and have an emotional reaction to it before they can actually absorb the information.
        My dad is the perfect example. I’ll correct him once, and let him have his freak out. Then later when he’s calmed down, I start the conversation again gently and bring in my facts and figures to really make my case. I think he just needs to get his emotions out of his system before he can start making decisions and thinking critically.
        My mother and I call it “planting the seed.”

    4. Tea Fish*

      This is a script I’ve used for an overthinking, sometimes catastrophizing manager:

      “Oh no, I really hope that [BAD THING] isn’t the case. You know, I heard [correct information] has been happening, so hopefully things will shake out okay.”

      And then following up worrying with gentle optimism while acknowledging their worries (but not too much!) Variations on “If [BAD THING] turns out to be the case, I’m sure our team can handle it.” “We’ll make sure to keep an eye on things– let me know if you notice [BAD STUFF] starting up.” “Yeah, it would suck if [BAD STUFF] is happening, but we’ll work through it!”

    5. Washi*

      I would just convey the facts and leave the emotions out of it. If you’re boss is all “the engineering department is trying to take credit for our hamster ball innovation!!!” you can just say “huh, I haven’t heard anything like that. I’ve had a great experience with Fergus from engineering.”

      If she still wants to work herself up, that’s not on you.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      For me it varies how I address this.
      If I am 100% sure the boss is over estimating the size of the problem, I go in on a consoling level with, “No, boss, this will be okay. Here, I can show you why it will be okay right now.” Then I explain.

      If I am not 100% sure then I use a bit different approach. I try to find out the part that worries her the most and see if there is something I can do to lower the worry or maybe erase the worry. In certain types of settings I can suggest that we do a test run together to see what actually happens. (Two people working on something together tend to bolster each other.)
      With problems that I cannot fix, the thing I do is ask myself, “How much of this is actually mine to worry about?” In my out loud voice, I say, “Can you talk this over with someone who would know? Sometimes we aren’t really supposed to answer, we have to let the boss go through their own process. We can suggest a source for further information if that is possible.

      With some people like your boss, AR, it might be wise to talk about solutions for worst case scenario. “Okay if raw material X does not arrive in time, do we have plan B?” She will probably say NO. Then you can say, “Is there another source for raw material X that we could use, if the first source fails?” And so on. Here you go right into the worry with them and look for possible solutions or patches for the problem.

    7. Princess Alpaca*

      Oh no! Did someone else bring some cheap rolls to a potluck when your boss had signed up to bring Hawaiian rolls??

  8. Jess*

    This is bringing back a memory of my first post-college job, being asked by my boss to send out a letter for him, and discovering there were a couple of typos in it. I don’t even remember if I pointed them out or not. I just remember being -horrified- to see a letter, on letterhead, by someone who had a Director-level job, with TYPOS in it. I literally had no idea how he could have gotten to that level in his career while making that sort of an error, and I could hear the awful critical judgmental voices of my parents in my head.

    For me, this memory is a microcosm of how ill-prepared I was for the workplace, and how much impact a dysfunctional family can have on all aspects of one’s work life. I think about that sometimes with some of the more fraught letters here, on what seem on the surface like minor issues…

    1. OrigCassandra*

      I hear you. A bad grade meant a two-hour lecture in my house. Deprogramming myself from that was… a lot.

  9. Anon Here*

    I’m one of those annoying people who always wants to correct and/or add useful info. I’ve found that tone makes all the difference. You have to phrase it as a respectful question, or a statement of a fact with a source. “In the manual, it says to add sugar. I believe that was in the last paragraph in Chapter 3. Are we using a different process or will we be including that step?” See, there, you’re invoking a higher authority (the manual) so you don’t sound as disrespectful of your boss’s authority, as long as you sound polite and friendly enough.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes, tone and wording matter. You approach it as a suggestion/conversation more than a “That’s wrong, fix yo’self.” kind of way.

      1. Anon Here*

        Right. I like to phrase it as a question because sometimes you’re wrong and they’re right, or they have a reason for doing things the “wrong” way.

        1. Washi*

          Yeah, I think it goes a long way to acknowledge the possibility that you’re the one who is mixed up (even if you’re sure you’re right.) That makes it less adversarial and more “I’m seeing this and you’re seeing that, how can we reconcile our perspectives?”

        2. Kendra*

          This! This right here is an attitude that would save sooo many relationships (and not just work ones!).

    2. many bells down*

      I just has to do that as my grandboss was insisting that something has always been set up a certain way and I wasn’t doing it right. Forwarded him the email from tech support that said the option to do what he claimed we’d always done wasn’t possible in the software.

    3. Just Another Manic Millie*

      A respectful tone does not always make the difference! A former supervisor always insisted that he was correct, especially when he wasn’t. No matter how gently and tactfully I tried to correct his spelling errors, he always insisted that he wanted the letters sent out with his choice of spelling. I finally figured out that all I had to do was say, “Okay, I’ll send the letters out the way you want, but when you find out that the recipients were ROTFLTAO, don’t come crying to me!” And then he would agree to make the changes that I wanted.

      Once, when I came back from vacation, I pointed out a glaring error in an offer letter that was typed the way he “wanted,” either by a temp or another employee at our company, I don’t know. He agreed with me right away that it was a HUGE error. I said, “I know that, and you know that, but I bet the recipient doesn’t know that. Did he ever call you and ask you to redo the offer?” He said no. I said that it was probably because the recipient was probably still ROTFLHAO and didn’t have the strength to pick up the phone.

      He mispronounced clients’ names horribly. What I did was call the client’s company when he was nearby and say, “XYZ Company? How does your employee pronounce his last name – Lappydus or Luhpeedus? He pronounces it Lappydus? Are you sure? Are you really sure? Thank you!” And then I would say, “His company says that he pronounces it Lappydus.”

      Once we had a disagreement over whether there is such a word as become. I said that become is a word. He insisted that there was no such word. So, while I wanted to say in a letter “it will become available,” he wanted to say “it will be coming available.” So I had to say, “Blahblahblah don’t come crying to me” to get him to agree to use the word become in the letter.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I just had a situation with another agency over the spelling of a last name. Smyth vs Smith. What was odd was I got a message back saying “the spelling is Smith please correct your records”. Sooooo I sent them a message saying, the spelling is Smyth and here are the reasons we know this to be correct: Reason A, Reason B and Reason C. Each reason stood alone as reason enough.

        Then crickets. I heard nothing further. I smiled and thought, “I guess they got my point.”
        There was no softening language in their initial message. I felt free to just matter-of-factly state, “Here’s what I got.”

  10. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I’m super comfortable with it now (it also helps that I have a really good relationship with my boss). But before I was I always put the onus on me, “Wait. I thought it was XYZ. Did that change?” Now that I’m far more comfortable I gently correct him and keep going in the conversation/meeting/email/whatever.

  11. designbot*

    WRT client direction, something we say a lot in my office is “I heard that a little differently” especially when we’re talking about a meeting we were all in. It’s fairly frequent to walk out of a meeting with varying interpretations, so people also often invite this by some variation of “OK so it sounds like the client wants X—is that what you heard too?”

    1. Lexin*

      That’s what happens between me and my boss, too. I’m a PA, and an older person, and I’ve held more senior jobs than my current post (why I don’t now is a long story, suffice it to say I’m happy not to be the one responsible for things) and I’m quite careful of the words I choose when I have to correct my boss that I don’t come across as her mother.

      Doesn’t happen often, though. She’s normally pretty on the ball.

    2. Is it Friday yet?*

      I’m dealing with this a lot at my job, and my co-worker is driving me nuts because she’ll just say, “Well you’re wrong.” Even though lots of other people agree with me and she ends up being corrected later… Anytime I’ve brought this up with our boss, he just stresses that we need to get a long. I’m losing my mind.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        “Coirker, we all make mistakes. But here, instead of saying, “Well, you’re wrong, we say [blah, blah, blah]. It does not really matter if a PERSON is right or wrong, the only thing that matters is that the work be correct in the end. So this is not about you or me being right or wrong.”

        I have used this redirect with pretty good success. You may have to say this a couple times before it sinks in, especially if this has been going on a while. You remove the focus on a person being wrong and put the focus on the work being done correctly.

        I have also gone with, “It does not matter who is right and who is wrong. What matters is that the work is correct.” And if need be, you can add, “This is not all about someone being wrong”, just to be redundant. Because some people need lots of repetition. She sounds like one of those people.

      2. designbot*

        I’d try to push back against the boss when he says that a bit, like ‘Are you also telling her that? Because it feels like the responsibility to get along is all falling on me, and I think in order for that to work she needs to also be accountable for it.”

  12. Duvie*

    At Oldjob, OldBoss could be a little sensitive if simply corrected. I got better results by making it a bit of a joke on myself: “That supplier meeting is on Monday? Good thing you mentioned it; I wrote it down as Wednesday. Senility must be setting in!” That gave her a chance to check her notes and say “Nope, you’re okay. It actually is Wednesday.” (It helped that I’m enough older that senility wasn’t out of the realm of possibility!)

  13. Mazzy*

    Use data to back up your claims and check to see if what they’re saying used to be true, so you can frame it as “that used to happen when we did chocolate teapots but doesn’t really happen now with pistachio ones,” instead of “that’s not true.” Because if they saw something happen even once and now you’re saying it doesn’t happen, of course they’re going to get defensive and not believe you.

    1. Andy*

      I do this often: “I can see why that seems like it should be the case because of (x thing in the past), but it turns out (thing that has changed w direct bearing on matter at hand).”
      It helps that I work on a swiftly growing campus of a state U and processes are ALWAYS changing. I have a go to phrase: Always the first time at (insert name of U)!

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It takes practice but it does become easier once you’ve done it a couple of times. This way you break the ice of seeing how they react. Most people aren’t offended by being corrected, unless you make a big stink out of it or do it in a weirdly public manner.

    My bosses own the company 99% of the time the other 1% they’re the CEO under the ownership. Only one, who is awful in business and personally took it poorly after awhile [only once he decided I was new Public Enemy #1, naturally]. Everyone else takes the information and appreciates it, I’m usually saving them money in some way so that helps of course ;) Or save them from missing something critical “That meeting is THIS Thursday, not next Thursday.” “Dan is coming in today, not tomorrow.” kind of stuff has saved them a lot of face with clients/vendors as well.

    Try observing your colleagues ad if they correct the boss, how they do it as well. That can help. If you’re around people who do it, it’s pretty common to not correct the boss I’ve learned, so that may or may not give you some insight into at least how they react to corrections.

  15. NW Mossy*

    One other factor to consider: in providing a correction, what’s your purpose? Showing good judgment about when you choose to say something versus letting it slide is the biggest difference between people who provide useful feedback and the “well, actually” type.

    The examples Alison cites are all things that are reasonable to bring up, like errors of fact that might change someone’s decision or thinking or errors that impact relationships (like getting someone’s name wrong). But minor typos or a wrong word choice? Unless something dire’s going to happen because of it, feel free to just let those go.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Yes, it’s useful to think about where to spend your capital in corrections. Corrections for minor issues don’t have to be obvious, saving that capital. I handle little errors as redirects which set the record straight but don’t call attention to the mistake. For example:

      If Boss mispronounces client’s name during a meeting, in your next response, simply pronounce the name properly.
      If Boss says X when it should be Y, do a recap: “So, we’re on track to deliver Widget Y orders by the 15th of the next month, yes?”
      And so on.

      1. JessaB*

        And yet there was a major court case about overtime pay for workers who drove trucks in the dairy industry that literally hung on the absence of a comma in the law. I think it depends on the impact of the “small error.” It also depends on the industry.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Laws/Regulations have to be picked over with that fine tooth comb though.

          Just like doctors cannot just misplace a decimal point in a prescription and give a dangerous amount of certain medications!

          So it really depends on the scope in the end. Is this a law? Is this someone’s life or freedoms we’re talking about? Or is it just that someone accidentally said “are company picnic is nexxt thursday.” instead of “Our company picnic is next Thursday.” You know…is it just for optics or is there a real case behind why that error needs to be noticed to avoid catastrophe.

          1. NW Mossy*

            Extending that a bit, it’s also helpful to think about scope/likelihood of a negative outcome. I see a lot of scenarios in my work where people pour tons of effort into solving for situations that might only occur once or twice in a decade. Sometimes it’s less expensive to just absorb the cost of the error than it is to try to prevent it, but that sort of calculated-risk approach can be really hard for highly conscientious people to believe in.

  16. CM*

    Framing that I like to use — especially for things that indicate a deeper misunderstanding on the part of the speaker than just forgetting a date or a detail — is, “People sometimes mean different things when they say X. Can you tell me more about what you mean?”

    This works especially well in situations where someone’s using technical terms incorrectly, for example, and it sometimes opens the door to them asking what other things people might mean when they say X, which lets you explain how the term’s normally used without sounding pedantic. It also gives people a way to save face in group settings because you’re not telling them they’re wrong — you’re telling them that their understanding is DIFFERENT from yours and taking a neutral stance on exploring what the differences are (even when you know you’re 100% correct).

    1. Kendra*

      This is great especially for people who’ve picked up their understanding of technical stuff indirectly or on the job, not through formal training, and so sometimes have developed a slightly mistaken impression, or have just never heard a particular detail. You can almost always help them fill in those gaps without making it about who’s right or who’s wrong.

  17. PeanutButter*

    After spending nearly a decade working in public health & safety and emergency rooms, I never realized how (…rare? Not rare, but something most people aren’t comfortable doing, I guess) being able to immediately speak up if you think something is amiss to a superior is. It’s understood that while the doctor makes the final call and obviously has the most education, if something they want to do goes again *my* training it’s on me to clarify and make sure they didn’t misspeak or miss something in a patient’s history/symptoms/medications/etc. Likewise I’ve been corrected by CNAs/EMT-Basics or others “lower” on the medical totem pole because *I* missed something.

    I’m now in a MS program to transition to more traditional work (no more 12-48 hour shifts lifting patients in and out of ambulances for this old lady) . Reading this question and the responses has made me realize I’m going to have to do a big reset on how I speak to higher-ups in a team if I’m worried they may be making a mistake since the consequences are (likely) no longer going to be the difference between immediate life or death for a patient! Thanks for running this blog, Alison, it’s really enlightening for those of us transitioning to white-collar work after a life spent in other professional contexts.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think that medical folks talk to each other a lot more matter of factually than those in an office environment. So I don’t know that you need to rework how you speak to your team.

      Every team has their own communication styles and it’s best to view your situation through that specific lens instead of this wide one for a group of different careers/positions!

  18. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    This is funny to me, because my boss is in the pod that I share with four people going through some folders. I read the headline. She started laughing out loud, “Like any of you people have a problem telling me I’m wrong!” And it is funny because she and I just finished a half hour conversation about how team meetings should be dialogues. How she is looking for input when she passes out new processes and procedures. “I’d rather have someone tell me, No, that won’t work. Hell, I’d rather have someone say, “I’d don’t like doing it that way,” and we can discuss it than have nobody tell me that something is wrong, doesn’t work or can be improved.”
    And it’s true. So OP, I’m genuinely sorry this is an issue for you.

    1. Aurion*

      It is a very good question, because you can have bosses genuinely interested in feedback, but can bristle/get taken aback at the delivery (which may or may not be a reasonable reaction depending on said delivery, the individual egos of the people involved, etc etc ad nauseum).

      One of the most valuable things this blog has taught me is that how I do the delivery makes a huge impact on what I get done; a delivery with more finesse will often get me where I want quicker, with better results and no hurt feelings in the meanwhile. It was a very illuminating discovery that applies both at work and in my personal life.

  19. FormerFirstTimer*

    I always just make it sound like I’m double-checking that *I* have the right information. My boss usually knows the right answer, but she’s got too many tabs open in her brain usually, so I try to subtly give her a chance to rethink her answer. That way there’s no awkwardness.

      1. Jerusha*

        Twice, I have almost bought the following T-shirt. If/when I see it again, I just may give in…

        “My mind is like my internet browser: 19 tabs open, 3 of them are frozen, and I have no idea where the music is coming from…”

  20. Washi*

    One strategy that helps me is to think of the most well-intentioned, innocuous possible reason for the mistake, and then respond however I would in that scenario. Even if you suspect that there are less benign forces at play, it can help to approach it as “everyone forgets stuff and a quick nonjudgmental clarification will solve this.” For myself, I know I get way less defensive when there’s not any kind of accusation to defend against.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      A Big Yes to this one. And it’s amazing how many things you can work through.

      “Oh [stealing, lying] Coworker, I don’t think you realize you just put that $10 bill from a customer in your pocket with your lighter. It’s a real easy mistake to make, I have absent-mindedly done similar things [NOT].”

      “Oh, Boss, look! Someone [YOU] accidentally [NOT] erased hours off my time sheet. I am sure no one meant to do anything illegal here [LIE!] and it was just an accident [on purpose].”

  21. Warm Weighty Wrists*

    One additional thing that really helps is reacting well when you’re wrong about something. “Oh, I thought that meeting was on January 15th, not the 30th.” “It was, but then Jose couldn’t make it so now it’s the 15th.” “Oh, ok, I’ll write that down. Will that change our schedule for the February meetings too?” Your attitude should always communicate that the goal is to nail down the correct information, not to be right, and taking it well when you don’t have the correct info goes a long way toward showing that.

      1. JanetM*

        Heh. Your example actually made sense to me without any corrections — perhaps my sense of timing is skewed by a recent example in my own life (I needed a minor in-office medical procedure, and was told the first available date was October 30. I said I was out of town that whole week, and was offered October 23).

  22. Lucky black cat*

    I found this post really interesting to read because I am very detail-oriented and my manager is not – she’s very much an ideas / big picture person, and is fine with people pointing out details to her.

    Previous manager didn’t like anyone ever correcting her and would also never admit when she was wrong so that was fun.

  23. Richard Hershberger*

    I am so happy that I work for an intelligent and reasonable human being. I am a paralegal in a very small practice. The thing is, legal work is a minefield of potential mistakes, with the consequences ranging from trivial to catastrophic. Any sane lawyer wants other people to talk things over with and to backstop them. This is an issue in a solo practice. My boss and I routinely review each other’s work before it goes out the door. It is normal for a lawyer to review his paralegal’s work, if only because a lot of it goes out over the lawyer’s signature. It is less usual for the paralegal to review the lawyer’s work. I do it for everything from copy editing to critiquing the legal argument. There is no tiptoeing around necessary. This goes a long ways to explaining why I have been working for the same guy over ten years now.

    My previous boss? I had to apologize for taking his time before asking for clarification of his vaguely written instructions. Pointing out a mistake never entered my world view of possible things to do. I always thought he would end up disbarred for something that his staff knew about but couldn’t communicate with him. In fairness, while he was eventually disbarred, it wasn’t for that.

  24. RC Rascal*

    Magic words for this on ( use for major issues , not minor stuff): “Help me understand your thinking.” This is also great for dealing with senior types from other departments who come in and dictate stuff that doesn’t make any sense.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      A caution on this one, if used too much it sounds like drippy sarcasm. Annnd if every time a person uses it they turn out to be right most of the time it comes off as condescending as in, “I already know the answer but I am going to have an unnecessary,elongated and belabored conversation with you so you can get even further behind on your work.”

      Much better to be specific, “I am confused on part C how did you arrive at Y answer?”

  25. Junior Assistant Peon*

    If your boss is a jerk about always being right, it can be fun to let him/her have an Emperor’s New Clothes moment!

    1. banzo_bean*

      Until your boss screams “why didn’t anyone tell me I was scammed into thinking I was wearing clothes!?!” at you and your team for an hour.

      But the inital satisfaction can be quite worth it.

  26. Lady Kelvin*

    My typical way of handling this is to act like I’m confused about the information (because, often I am confused as to why they said something different than I expected). Something like “Wait, I thought it was XX” is usually enough for one of us to suggest double checking or clarifying that they have more recent information. It helps everyone save face, and I’m not always right, which helps it feel like I’m not correcting anyone, just clarifying.

  27. Bugs, Bugs Everywhere*

    My boss once told me “the reason you have a fever when you get sick is from the heat generated by the bacteria multiplying in your body” and it took great self-control not to tell him he was wrong. He was a microbiologist. No, I didn’t correct him, nor do I work for him anymore.

  28. MsMaryMary*

    If someone senior to me says something incorrect in front of a client, I try to find whatever is correct about their statement, and then point out the incorrect piece. For example: “Oh, that’s true in Ohio, but I believe under California law we would need a different course of action” or “Harry was focusing on the fixed costs when he said you could expect a 1% increase over current, but I want to make sure you note we’re projecting that variable costs will increase by 8%” It allows the more senior person to save face a bit.

  29. CAndy*

    The Evelyn Waugh ‘Scoop’ approach by William Boot.
    Boss is right: Definitely, Lord Copper.
    Boss is wrong: Up to a point, Lord Copper.

  30. Corporate Goth*

    Not only would I definitely want to be corrected, I’d probably trust the person willing to correct me more. It means I’m part of their team, they’re not afraid of power dynamics, and I’ve got better info. That’s info I’m more likely to start sharing with that person to solicit their opinion, because I want honest feedback.

    Unless it’s just being argumentative/defensive. Different story there.

  31. HKM*

    Oh boy. I work in film, and had a manager who consistently called a very famous, well known director we were working with by the wrong name, juxtaposing some letters.
    Noone called her out on it for several weeks, and luckily she never said it to his face, but our exec eventually replied to one of her emails correcting her with a gentle joke.
    In hindsight, I’m not sure why we never corrected her?

  32. Sure thing boss*

    I once gently corrected my boss one on one after they’d said something in a meeting; I was then told that that’s not what they said at all. It wasn’t pleasant. I did it again (gently) and got the same sharp counter-correction. This boss never wrote anything down, but wouldn’t give an inch on their recollection of any event. Super popular person. I stopped offering corrections pretty soon after that and started looking for a new job & boss.

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