how can I explain a mistake wasn’t mine without looking like a tattletale?

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my current job for nearly a year. Things were pretty rocky at first, but I’ve been making excellent progress so far that my boss has complimented me on several times. Thanks to a new diagnosis and successful treatment for ADHD, I’m starting to feel much more confident in myself and my position.

One of my struggles comes with small mistakes that end up causing issues further down the line. I hate to be “that guy,” but these mistakes are generally not my fault, but the fault of the people providing me with the information. For example, when I entered a new project into the system, two of the numbers of the client ID were transposed. When the project wasn’t set up on time because of the typo, the blame came down on me. The thing is, I copied the client number from the account manager’s email, so the mistake wasn’t mine. There have been other, similar issues that have tripped me up, and I worry that I look sloppy and careless. Any time I do make a legitimate mistake, I own up to it and ask for details that I can reference to avoid it in the future, or share my plan of action to avoid making the mistake again.

I don’t want to look like the kind of person who dodges the blame for mistakes, even if the mistake isn’t my fault. While my boss hasn’t commented on this pattern as a whole, just the occasional private email correcting the mistake, I’m still worried that a bunch of little mistakes may turn into a big problem. I try to independently verify everything that crosses my desk, but this is incredibly time consuming and not always possible.

The next time I inadvertently take the fall for someone else’s mistake, how do I address it with my boss that doesn’t leave me looking like a tattletale?

When it’s something minor and it’s just once or twice, the best approach is usually just to let it go. Everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes, and it’s fine to just fix the thing and move on.

But if it’s happening multiple times, or the mistake is a big enough deal that blame is in play or it’s going to make you look bad, then it’s worth correcting the record.

In doing that, don’t focus on the blame piece. Approach it as just getting facts correct, and possibly as problem-solving when that makes sense. You want your tone to be matter-of-fact and not defensive. For example:

* “Oh, it looks like Jane transposed two of the numbers in the client ID. I’ll get it fixed.”
* “It looks like one of the account managers transposed two of the numbers in the client ID. I’ll get it fixed and see if there’s a way to build in a check for that in the future.”
* “Hmmm, it came to me that way and looks like I did copy it correctly at my stage — so let me figure out what happened so it doesn’t happen again.”

If it’s happening a lot, sometimes it makes sense to address the big picture: “I know we’ve been running into errors when client IDs are entered into the new system. Every time it happens, I’ve been checking to make sure it’s not a problem with my system, and it looks like the numbers are getting transposed before they reach me. So I’m going to talk to the account managers to see if there’s a way to verify the forms have the correct numbers before they get sent to me for entering.”

There can sometimes be a fine line between explaining the problem and throwing someone under the bus (both of which are more useful frameworks than tattling, which mostly doesn’t apply at work). The easiest way to stay on the right side of the line is to use a problem-solving framework like the examples above.

{ 135 comments… read them below }

  1. SomebodyElse*

    “It looks like one of the account managers transposed two of the numbers in the client ID. I’ll get it fixed and see if there’s a way to build in a check for that in the future.”

    Wanted to highlight this one, because I think it’s the most important. At the end of the day (absent of any ongoing performance issues (which it sounds like you’ve addressed)) I just want the problem fixed and reasonable efforts employed to resolve it in the future.

    You’re never going to get away from things like transposed numbers and incorrect information upstream like is the case with the example. But if you are having these issues brought to your attention then I’m really going to be looking for your input on how to make it stop.

    Even better, are you fixing things before they become a problem and you can point out fixes or changes you’ve made to improve the process that nobody may have noticed? Tell me about it (as your manager)! This demonstrates to me that you are aware of potential problems, looking for them, fixing them or preventing them. Then in the future, I’m going to first think hmmm OP is usually pretty good at spotting issues there must be something going on.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      This is exactly right.
      1) ID the problem
      2) Fix the current instance
      3) Start the process of preventing it in future

      Employees who do the first two steps are good. Employees who do all three are stellar. I know I’ve heard people complimented on their ‘focus on solutions’ for exactly this kind of response.

      1. DrSalty*

        Yes, this is the ideal mistake fixing process. This is the SOP my company uses when admitting mistakes to clients. The most important step is taking action to prevent future occurrences.

      2. EngineerMom*


        This is what I call “removing ego from the solution.” It really doesn’t matter WHO made the mistake – if you have recurring errors, that’s a symptom of a broken process. Identifying repetitive errors gives you the opportunity to fix the system.

        If you want some more info related to that, search “what the aviation industry can teach healthcare”.

      3. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yup. That’s it.

        It’s so simple I always wonder why so many people don’t work this way.

      4. azvlr*

        It’s very helpful to hear this! I had a similar problem as OP the other day, and responded with 1, 2 and 3, but darned if I didn’t feel gutted when my boss asked my what happened. I feel like the worst employee ever when this happens, and can talk myself in a big anxious circle about this type of thing.

  2. TootsNYC*

    One thing to do, especially w/ that copy/paste problem, is to emphasize how YOU are taking extra steps to be careful, even as you rely on your source material.
    So talk about what you did right.

    “I was extra careful to copy and paste that number directly from the email–I never like to risk an error from retyping. That’s a best-practice I use to protect us from things like that. So this error was there when I got it; I don’t know how to protect us from that.”

    1. ThatGirl*

      I think this is good, but instead of “I don’t know how to protect us…” I would say “do you have any suggestions on how we can avoid that?” Even if it’s not your fault, taking responsibility or making efforts to prevent it from happening is good.

      1. TiffIf*

        I actually did cause an issue one time by copying and pasting a value into a setting–I didn’t realize I had copied a leading or trailing whitespace. I took our whole system down for an hour. Luckily it was in a maintenance window anyway, but we weren’t supposed to be down during the maintenance.

        I owned up to my mistake and then made a ticket to the people who maintain the interface where I change settings to have it auto-strip whitespaces (these values should never have whitespaces) so it couldn’t happen again in the future.

      2. cosmicgorilla*

        I wouldn’t ask for solutions. It’s not your stakeholder’s job to solve problems. I would instead say, “going forward, I will do x to make sure the information I receive from blah blah is correct.”
        If the errors continue to happen, then I’d escalate.

        1. BethDH*

          I think you can ask your boss in a way you can’t ask stakeholders more generally. But you should be able to state what you’ve considered or tested on your own first.

    2. Nanani*

      It might be worth pointing out that your source for the information was incorrect.
      If you’re not in a position to get the number directly from the client or what have you, make sure to point that out. You shouldn’t imply that you’re going to start reading means to fix other people’s mistakes; there’s a point where the only way to fix it is time travel.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        This is where I landed when I thought about how OP could prevent this from happening in the future. Odds are… OP can’t. If Jane is considered to be the source of truth, and Jane keep sending OP IDs with typos in them, how can OP even know there’s a typo when the only source of ID numbers is Jane?

  3. Still No Beans About It*

    Does it matter who made the mistake? Does it *really* matter? Probably not. Just say, “Thanks, I’ll take care of it” and then take care of it. Be a problem solver, not a problem maker.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      It does matter who made the mistake – if they keep piling up the letter writer is going to look like they’re sloppy and bad at their job, which will affect the perception others have of them and potentially prevent them from advancing or even potentially lose their job.

    2. Jessen*

      If there’s a lot of mistakes, it does matter! You don’t want to get a reputation for making mistakes or being careless when it’s not your error. That’s the kind of thing that can affect your future at a job – raises, promotions, references, and so forth.

      1. Michael Valentine*

        Yup, exactly. It’s like credit for good work. If you don’t get the credit when it’s due, you’ll be overlooked, and possibly someone else will gladly take it. Feels wrong for those of us socialized to be humble and a team player to stand up for yourself but if you don’t, there could be a professional price, esp for historically marginalized people.

        1. Not My Usual Name*

          marginalized people

          Honestly, I suspect that the calculus just has to be different for people from marginalized groups. Aiming for humility means risking being tagged as incompetent. At the same time, we also risk seeming “aggressive” for being the squeaky wheel. You stand to lose whatever you do. People who benefit from certain types of privilege will never understand that they’re the only ones who can avoid all sorts of professional risks by aiming to seem as nice and agreeable as possible.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Also, if you don’t identify where the problem happened, it’s harder to fix it.

      3. The Doctor Is Here*

        It also really really depends on your field. In mine (pharmacy), it matters a LOT. Not for punitive reasons, at least in my current workplace (let’s not talk about my old one), but because mistakes can be very dangerous and knowing who did it and how/why means we can retrain that person. For us, “does it matter” is YES, we need to know who made the mistake so we can know what happened and how to try to prevent it. Some become “everyone should do thing x this way now because the old way can lead to errors” but some become “Jane remember that Hydralazine and Hydroxyzine are not the same”

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I had a coworker once who was embarrassed by a mistake she had made. I had asked her if she knew how it happened, but her answer was basically, “It doesn’t matter how it happened as long as it doesn’t happen again.” I told her I disagreed, that making sure everyone understands all the processes is important, but she got really huffy and refused to talk about it any further. Unfortunately, our boss had to intervene because I was concerned about her not realizing the importance of avoiding expensive mistakes.

          If someone’s life or health is on the line, IT’S IMPORTANT!!! But, also, if your clients’ money is on the line, all employees need to understand the importance and take it seriously. Embarrassment aside!

    3. Lacey*

      Ugh, this attitude is why people end up losing out on opportunities or even their job for mistakes someone else made. It doesn’t always matter, but coming back at people with this kind of nonsense when they ask about how to handle the situation means companies will end up retaining problem makers without even knowing it.

      1. Mark*

        “…or even their job”…. <== that happened to me once, many years ago. In my case, it was our *huge, very high profile* customer who made a mistake when using my company's software and complained to our execs when things didn't work right. Unfortunately I had a new manager who wanted to make an example of me and demonstrate he would hold his team accountable and I was the victim since I was the one who was the client's point of contact on the implementation side. (We can't blame the customer now, can we?) I was term'd and that was it. They didn't quite figure it out until after I was gone. It took me a *long* time to recover professionally. Years. Yes, I'm still bitter.

        Anyway – a digression there – but this thread suddenly made that old bad memory come back.

    4. Magenta Sky*

      If it happens a lot, it does matter. No matter how carefully you check for such things, some will slip though. And if it happens a lot and causes real problems, maybe somebody does need to be thrown under the bus, and it needs to be the person making the mistakes, not the last person to touch the data.

      If it happens a lot.

    5. Eurekas*

      In my job, it does matter. We’ve got a lot of turnover, and a lot of new hires, some of whom may be inadequately trained. So on the one hand, maybe it doesn’t matter, and my boss gives out a generous number of “Friendly Reminder: Do This (or Don’t do that) to everyone. But on the other hand, if someone is consistently doing the wrong thing (or even just being sloppier about it than other people), maybe they’d be more likely to get it right in the future if they had a little more training, either in the right procedure, or just someone leaning on them to say “This piece is *important*.

      1. SarahKay*

        Seconding this. My company has two ways to input a particular type of data; it can be done by a web interface, or it can be done direct into the system itself. Neither is trickier than the other, just different, but if you do it via the web interface then there’s no way to check who input that data – the system just records that the web program did it.
        We then have no way to follow up on mistakes and check if there’s a training gap for one person, or ten different people making ten different mistakes, or whatever else. As a result, on our site we’re all trained (and strongly encouraged) on how to input that data direct to the system.
        Of course, it’s then important that we are genuinely not out to penalise people for making an error, we just want to fix the reason for it.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        When Umbridge was my manager, she would react so badly to any minor human errors, or what she thought were errors, that I got to the point of trying to fix minor things myself before she became aware of them if it was at all possible. After she had gone, I did start wondering whether that may not have been the best way to handle things because while I may have saved someone from having their head bitten off, it was possible that could have helped mask someone’s legit training issue.

    6. Bee*

      If your job is data entry, and there’s a lot of wrong data going into the system, then yes, it does make a difference whether it’s a bunch of people making a few mistakes each or you making a lot of mistakes in a core part of your job.

    7. Mental Lentil*

      If they are all coming from a particular person, or a particular workgroup, then yes, it does matter.

      It’s not enough to fix problems one at a time if there is a deeper root cause that needs to be addressed.

      But if it’s just random human error, then yep, don’t worry about where it’s coming from. Fix it and move on.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Exactly! Especially if it seems to be a bunch of people making the same mistakes. Maybe the company needs to reevaluate their systems so this mistake doesn’t keep happening.

        1. Quill*

          Yep, especially if it’s an ID #. Standard operating procedures exist to prevent these kinds of finger-blunders so that everyone can verify information!

    8. miss chevious*

      It definitely can matter, yes. My department relies on information and approvals from other departments in order to draft contracts. If that information is incorrect, then it can cause problems down the road, including client termination and even lawsuits.

      So when someone comes back to my department after finding one of these errors, it’s our responsibility to determine if this was our fault and, if so, how we can fix it first in the document, then in the process that caused the error. If it isn’t our fault, then we can fix the document, but we can’t fix the process. So “just taking care of it” perpetuates a broken process, that will then result in more errors and more needless work. (Not to mention, my department will look like screwups for errors we could not have stopped.)

    9. GreenDoor*

      Sometimes it does matter. I’m a manager and if it was the same person constantly making the mistake I’d want to have a conversation to determine if that person needs more training, is intentionally being careless, etc. Similarly, if it’s the same work area making a consistent mistake, I’d want to determine if there’s a process problem to fix or a check-and-balance that could be put in place. Point is, if there is a *pattern* I want to address it – either with the individual or the work site.

      If it’s just a one-off, then that’s when it doesn’t really matter who made the mistake.

    10. bubbleon*

      It may not matter if it was John or Jane who made the mistake before it got to you, but often the important part is that *you* weren’t the one who did it. That’s what OP’s getting at, not how to lay blame on the right person but how to make it clear that it wasn’t them.

    11. Kim*

      No, actually it really does matter because if it happens enough times and people don’t work with you often enough to know what you can or can’t do, they will pin the blame on you in meetings you’re not even a part of–and management will listen to them.

      I actually was one of those “problem-solvers,” fixing all the little mistakes people make without saying a thing–and consequently most people had no idea what I did or was capable of. Guess who are getting promoted three years later, the problem-solver quietly fixing things or the person with the confidence of someone who had no idea how sloppy their work was?

      1. cabbagepants*

        +1000 for this

        In plenty of workplaces, the default state is that credit for good work goes to the loudest and blame for bad work goes to the most vulnerable. It has been a huge political battle at my company to actually get credit for what I do well, rather than giving the credit to the Loud Old White Man who created most of the problems I fixed. My company was always happy, though, to yell at me for any real or perceived errors (in my work or in his).

        1. meyer lemon*

          Yes, and often credit tends to accumulate around the people who benefit most from assumed competence. Good old Chad, always so pleasant at happy hours and never once seen a problem with his work. In the background, how many less privileged coworkers are quietly fixing Chad’s sloppy errors and getting no credit for it? Meanwhile, Chad becomes a katamari of credit.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              It’s from a video game series, I believe. It’s a sticky ball that rolls over things and glomps them up, thereby growing bigger and bigger.

            2. Elenna*

              There’s a video game series called “Katamari Damacy” where you roll around a ball (called a katamari) and pick up anything smaller than you that you run into, the goal is to get the ball as large as you can. You can find youtube videos about it if you want, it’s a pretty fun game.

              1. Nanani*

                Interestingly, in Japanese “boomers” are called the Katamari generation. Because there’s such a big clump of them.

          1. cabbagepants*

            “Assumed competence” is a great way to put it — or, another way would be confirmation bias. Once people think that Chad is great, then they just assume that good work was done by Chad and mistakes could not have been made by Chad. And if Chad is forced to admit a mistake — well, it’s a one-off fluke!

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        Yes to this! Sometimes people in other departments don’t know what others in other departments can and cant do or see. Here is a story of why this matters (it was a few years ago so details are a little fuzzy)
        In a former job I worked Customer Service. One of our product lines was as a whole sale to real estate courses and books to real estate schools. There were clients that would sometimes call us instead of their client service manager (CSM). Sometimes they would call us just to place a textbook order (something we did regularly and trained to do) but sometimes they had questions about other products or wanted special items, etc (something only CSMs could do).
        The clients were on a tier system with certain clients getting priority than others (i.e send them immediately to CSM otherwise take a message and CSM would get back in 2-10 days), or that only a specific CSM worked with that client. The company had been using a google doc that showed all the information. It was great we could look at their names and know exactly what to do. There was no problems with accessing the document.

        But then they changed systems (if I remember right I think it was salesforce) and decided that the google doc was not needed and it was no longer updated and people lost access. IT jumped the gun or messed up. They implemented the transition in ‘stages’ where everyone had access to salesforce but only certain people could see things. This made no sense to us in customer service. Especially since now we have no way to know what teir someone was on, who their CSM was or anything. CSM team kept putting stuff in like they were supposed to but we couldn’t see it. However, one of the managers could see the info. So if we got a client we would ask the manager to find the info we needed. Well of course one day a client calls in and the manager is gone. No one could find the information and the client was getting Pissed. So a senior team member told me to do X thing. and whatever X was it was wrong. It happened to me and a few other people. The CSM team was mad! they chewed us out over the problems because they didnt realize what we could and couldn’t do because the manager was fixing the problems in the moment. (yes it was brought up to IT but they didnt see the need and said we would have access in “stage 2”). It took members of the sales team and CSM team to sit with us customer service people during live calls to show them what we could and couldn’t see.
        I don’t know if or how it got fixed. I left there shortly after this.

    12. I'm just here for the cats*

      It does matter. If the LW is getting a lot of emails with the wrong information from account managers how is he supposed to fix it if he doesn’t know its a problem.

      I guess it depends on the work and what access he has. If he can also look up the client by name and address to verify the ID number then that would be something he can fix. But if he only has the info that is given to him by the account manager there really isn’t anything on his end that he can do. The only thing he can do is bring it to his boss’s notice so he can say something like “I’ve noticed that there are numbers are being transposed on the emails i get from account managers. because I cannot look up the client information I have no way to verify that the client ID is correct. What can we do to fix this?

    13. StressedButOkay*

      It absolutely does matter. As a manager, if I saw someone I manage constantly making what I think are mistakes on their end, I’m going to get concerned about their performance. But if it’s pointed out (professionally) that they were a middle man, so to speak, my concern would shift from their performance, which isn’t the issue, to the true issue.

      Taking the potential blame for other people’s mistakes isn’t being a problem solver.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Yes, exactly! I don’t want one of my team members ending up on a PIP because they didn’t tell me the mistakes weren’t their own. And if it did get that far, I’d be questioning their judgment at that point, that they let it get that far without speaking up.

    14. Lana Kane*

      “Be a problem solver, not a problem maker” is old school advice that really only benefits leaders who don’t want to deal with problems. It also allows the status quo of shit rolling downhill to continue – affecting the people who suffered most from the mistakes and had the least amount of responsibility/ability to fix it (which is of course, those near the lower rungs of the ladder). This just isn’t how a healthy workplace functions. In fact, the job description for all my direct reports includes the responsibility to raise issues to a supervisor, once found.

    15. Mannheim Steamroller*

      It DOES matter if the same person is constantly expected to fall on other people’s swords.

    16. Super Doctor Astronaut Peter Corbeau*

      So, as a customer service manager, I once received a phone call from a sales manager asking me to calculate how much a one year refund would be for a not-insignificant customer. “We’ve been overbilling them and now they want to cancel entirely. This has already made it to the executive team, so I just need you to get me the number.”
      Cut to two weeks later when the Senior Vice President is at my desk, dressing me down for promising this customer tens of thousands of dollars back without running it up to our executive team for approval. It seems that, when this sales manager said “the executive team,” he didn’t mean OUR executive team. He meant this customer’s executive team. Being able to explain that to the SVP probably saved my job.
      Accountability matters.

    17. Dust Bunny*


      It was my responsibility at one of my former jobs to add up everyone’s hours and submit them to a separate company that did payroll. Only the payroll company got it wrong EVERY SINGLE TIME. My boss thought it was me at first and I finally got him to assign an employee who outranked me to check my work for a few weeks, until she could vouch that a) I could add, and b) the forms I was submitting by fax–those were the days–were accurate and legible. I was not going to go down for payroll errors.

    18. Paris Geller*

      Look, everyone makes mistakes. So yeah, you get some info from Jane in accounts and there’s a mistake that you can easily fix, then sure, it doesn’t matter. But if the information you get from Jane is constantly riddled with errors, then it can make you look like you’re bad at YOUR job. Worse case scenario, you lose your job because of someone else’s constant mistakes.

      I have a Jane at my workplace. I know that I have to double check all information I get from her before I do anything, because there are always mistakes, normally multiple.

    19. Observer*

      Does it matter who made the mistake? Does it *really* matter? Probably not.

      Did you bother to read the question? The OP *does*have reason to worry about this. Because to the boss it probably DOES matter – if OP is the one making mistakes then the boss is going to look at OP and their work in one way. If the boss knows that the OP’s work is actually careful and accurate they are going to look at the OP’s work – and at the OP differently. This can make the difference between losing the job and advancing in their career.

      Be a problem solver, not a problem maker.

      Making it clear that you are not making repeated errors is NOT “making problems.”

      I do agree that the OP should do what they can to correct issues that get identified. But they ARE doing that already! It’s perfectly reasonable for them to want to make sure that they don’t take the hit for mistakes that other people are making.

    20. Nanani*

      It matters. It matters because power dynamics make it so some people are blamed for not fixing other people’s mistakes, even when it’s not in their power or purview to do so, and others get “don’t worry about it bro.”

      Some people are cast as mistake-makers for reasons that have nothing to do with the job they actually do, and if you can’t understand why that’s bad, you have big blinders on.

      1. cabbagepants*

        Yeah I’m trying not to be snarky, but if you think “it doesn’t matter,” then I would be inclined to believe that you have gotten comfortable with your mistakes being blamed on others.

    21. Littorally*

      Locating the source and cause of a mistake is a very important element of problem-solving, actually.

    22. Gaia*

      As your friendly data manager, when incorrect data is entered into a system it absolutely matters how it came to be incorrect and in the system. Poor data quality is a massive and spiraling issue.

      1. Tinker*

        To elaborate…

        This actually is kind of an interesting problem that I’ve been thinking on. There’s two things that seem like they’re the same thing, but they’re not quite:

        — You should actually think more about the problem and how to solve it than how to avoid blame. This is honorable and virtuous and stuff, but also the blame-avoiding mindset is ultimately unpleasant to inhabit and produces unpleasant results, whereas solving problems results in solved problems and solved problems are highly valued by the reward systems of most brains and some companies.

        — You should look like the person who thinks more about how to solve the problem than how to avoid blame. This is good for your personal prospects, your interpersonal effectiveness, and also being treated by others in a way that reflects an expectation that you can do the thing improves your actual performance at the thing.

        Actually being “that person” and behaving in a naively authentic way isn’t a bad start, but like a lot of things in the workplace there can be points where attention to image is needed. One thing in particular: looking “like the person who is making all the mistakes” is not looking “like the person who thinks more about how to solve the problem than how to avoid blame”. Particularly if the pump is primed in some way, for instance in the chain of events that lead to a working adult getting an ADHD diagnosis, merely expressing ownership of the issue runs the risk of being read as “another mistake this person made, boy they sure seem to make a lot of mistakes, I bet they’re making a lot more mistakes than the ones they’ve mentioned” rather than “look at that admirable display of responsibility, I feel reassured that this person will tell me the full truth of things even if they are not personally served by it”.

        Much as the product that is Coke is both “corn syrup and caffeine in a can” and “the assurance that this particular blend of corn syrup and caffeine is uniquely traditional and satisfying”, your management both wants the problem to be actually solved and also to feel as if their troubles are in reassuringly competent hands. Failing to deliver the latter component means that you have instead delivered Pepsi. Yes, I am from the South.

        This doesn’t mean you completely abandon the principle of not being a blame-shirker and start whimpering “it wasn’t me it was Jane, take Jane, Jane’s the bad one”. That’s undignified. But it does mean that, when you’re solving the problem — which you want to do, because solving the problem is good — part of your job is accurately reporting on your work and hence your relationship with the problem.

        So, when the situation calls for it, you go beyond “thank you, I’ll take care of that” to later come back and say “it turns out the llama tagging team put the wrong tag on a llama, I’ve informed them, and that’s been fixed” or “sometimes the llama tagging team writes down the wrong number, so I’ve added a step to look up the llama ID and see if it looks sensible” or “it turns out that 75% of our llama data errors are introduced at some point before we’re sent the llama data summary, so we need to raise this as an issue to the llama summary team”. These are functional things that relate to the problem, and they also serve the purpose of presenting yourself in the sort of honest way that is favorable.

        Hence, does it matter who made the mistake? The answer you give to that question is always “no”, but sometimes it’s the sort of “no” that handles the case where the answer is actually “yes”.

    23. Caroline Bowman*

      Of course sometimes it doesn’t matter, but the OP has got ADD and is fairly sensitive to detail-type tasks and not making mistakes or being perceived to make ”careless” types of mistakes often. Everyone makes them occasionally obviously, but I can appreciate why this is a personal bugbear for the OP. They just want a way to reasonably and rationally ensure that they are not seen as endlessly making making small, annoying mistakes, not attempting to point fingers and make life difficult for anyone, which seems quite reasonable.

      I like Alison’s wording, keeping quite neutral and collaborative, but just ensuring that it’s clarified where errors have happened without it devolving into a witch hunt.

    24. londonedit*

      It definitely matters, because it really doesn’t take much for people to start thinking ‘Ugh, *every* time I send something to Fergus, it goes wrong’. It only takes a couple of mistakes in quick succession, especially if those mistakes end up causing other people grief/delays/more work, and all of a sudden Fergus gets a reputation as someone who always makes mistakes and always messes things up for everyone else. And that’s not fair on Fergus if actually these mistakes are coming from somewhere else.

    25. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes, it *really* does.
      It matters for OP, who might lose their job over it, depending on how often it’s happening.
      But it matters even more to OP’s company, who will continue to have the problem (which, I presume, is costing them in lost time and rework) and not know where it is coming from. You cannot fix something you do not know the correct root cause for.

  4. MCMonkeybean*

    Also, keep in mind how your boss has reacted to the mistakes–it doesn’t sound like they have been mad at you or thrown blame around, just letting you know it is wrong and asking you to correct it. Hopefully knowing that can help you know that by just stating factually where in the chain of information the error occurred, you aren’t getting anyone else in trouble. You are truly just stating the facts which makes the issue easier for everyone to prevent in the future!

  5. OyHiOh*

    “I always use copy/paste to transfer client numbers from email to our documents to reduce errors from retyping.”

    And then, send your document set ups back to the author of the email, with the client ID and/or other information prone to errors highlighted, with a request to please double check that highlighted information is correct “before I pass these documents off to Jane.”

    1. Anononon*

      I don’t think this would work in many scenarios. My workplace sometimes throws the phrase around “trust the process” as, due to its high volume nature, everything can’t always be double checked. If this is an error that’s happened once or twice, it would be a major time waste to double check it every time, and if it is happening often, then the data integrity issue otherwise needs to be addressed.

      1. LQ*

        Yeah, building a process yourself that still leans into human error isn’t one I’d be keen on someone building out. That would take away from building a process that strips human error out of it – or at least the compounding of it. I would not want my folks going back to the source on every single thing they do because that’s multiple steps deep and would literally double the workload. Errors happen, do the best you can but just fix it. (And work toward a process or structure that prevents them, but that should be because it holds the information across a long chain/within a tool/etc, so that you don’t keep moving the data elements from one place to another, names, numbers, dates, whatever they are. It’s also generally a really big organizational culture change to make a move like that where everyone uses the same tool that lets you keep information appropriately tied together to reduce errors, in part because people spend a bunch of wasted time using tools like that to find out where other people went wrong and “tattle” when it doesn’t matter, errors have been reduced overall but made more transparent, and sometimes you just need to fix it and keep moving.)

    2. Nanani*

      Adding another step to the process, for other people to work on, is probably not going to fly.

      1. Bored Fed*

        Ummm, Citigroup had *three* people sign of on the wire transfers for the Revlon loan repayment transaction. But, the user interface was confusing, and so none of the three realized that they were (very unintentionally!) in fact making principal payments to the creditors (the payments were not yet due, and Revlon is in some financial difficulty). $900 million went out by mistake to various creditors, and while (after Citi realized their mistake) some of them returned the money, around $500 million worth was not returned. Judge Rakoff in the SDNY decided last month that, under New York law, Citi couldn’t claw back the money.

        Having a bad user interface can be expensive!

  6. HailRobonia*

    In my previous job, one of my duties was sending out requests for letters of recommendation for faculty promotion cases. I got severely reprimanded by the department head for sending a request to the wrong person – I had to wait for him to calm down before I could show him the list of names and addresses that HE had provided for the letters. Evidently he confused the reference with another professor of the same name.

    1. IEanon*

      Yes, this happens a lot in higher ed. My favorite is being lectured by supervisors for not catching errors in their own work before they send it out. Grammar/spelling I can help with; I cannot correct the date/time of the major event you planned with a different department and which I have never heard of before.

      1. Ashley*

        This! I get copied on a lot more emails now so I can catch things like this or just to know to remind my boss they need to do X. This is the process I have found easiest to correct mistakes that I would make that weren’t necessarily my fault.

    2. cncx*

      yup, i am the person responsible for creating email addresses for new users, and i got a nasty email this week, with a big boss on copy, for “not making the email”…the sender of the email hadn’t pulled from the address book but typed the address wrong…on our domain name..

      like yeah i’m not gonna do my job was their first conclusion. annoying.

  7. Rachel*

    I once had a job where there were systems that multiple people had access to, and if a mistake was made, it was difficult to tell who made it. My boss would frequently call me out for these types of mistakes and, while it was possible that I made them, it was also possible that someone else made them. I never knew what to do in those situations because I hated to admit to mistakes I was not sure I had made, but at the same time, if I pointed out that the process went through a lot of different hands, my boss would tell me I was being defensive. Over time, I learned that she would forgive mistakes but would not forgive defensiveness, so I just started taking ownership of any mistakes, but I always hated that situation.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      Ah yes, the ”you’re being defensive” feint. I love that one. Of course no one wants to be that person who cannot accept constructive criticism or feedback, so it’s easy to turn that into ”any time you push back or don’t just apologise and take the blame, you’re being defensive”. In one very unhappy situation I was in, I eventually said ”I realise that, it’s because I feel frequently attacked”. That shut the very well-meaning person up immediately. She just stared at me.

      I still shudder when I think of that job and the awful situation I was in, but that one particular conversation still gives me a tiny little warm glow.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Sounds like my previous boss – with a lot of the systems we had it was possible to track back mistakes to a particular person even if in some cases it required going to IT to check, but I remember one day someone had dragged and dropped an email into the “Completed” folder in our shared mailbox by accident, and “Umbridge” gathered everyone around and demanded to know who was going to own up to it. There was no real way of knowing who might have done that, and we did all push back as a group on that one and say most likely someone had done it by genuine accident and not even realised they’d done it (because seriously, if someone knew they’d done that, why would they just leave it there?)

      In a situation like the “transposed numbers provided by the account manager” example, you bet Umbridge would have gone through everything with a fine tooth comb to make sure the other person really had transposed the numbers themselves and it wasn’t OP making an excuse.

  8. LQ*

    I think that the thing to check yourself on here is your manager just asking you to fix it or are they actually blaming you. I ask people to fix things a dozen times a day, but we are several tiers in and I know that information that is not perfectly digital and held within a locked state and system degrades. Any time someone retypes, copy and pastes, says things with their face, hears it with ears….those all have data issues. One person types a number into an email, another person types it into another system…yeah, that’s going to have data loss, and that’s only going to increase the more links in that chain.

    “Fix it please.” Doesn’t have to be “And I blame you and you’re going to be fired.” It can also be “I know we have a system that needs to be better but this is the system we have today so please just clean this up since I know about it now and am giving it back to you to clean up, I want to get us to the new system but I’m not stopping to tell you all of this every time because it slows us down and we need to get to that process where they aren’t copy pasting, or emailing, or retyping. And that project takes time and resources and has 13 other dependent things first and 23 higher priorities for all of those 13 things. It happens, please fix it. shrug”

    It’s good to try to have the conversation with your boss about this once to see if they tend toward the first or the second. But if they say the second, just fix it and don’t worry about “blame” on it. Copying and pasting from email will absolutely have errors if there is enough of it.

    1. Lacey*

      Yes to this. I work a job where typos/errors happen all the time and when someone says, “Fix it!” they’re not blaming me, they don’t have the foggiest idea whether the mistake was mine, the sales person’s, or the client’s – they just know that it’s wrong and I’m the right person to fix it. I just fix it and say, “Here’s that correction!”

      Sometimes there are mistakes in how something is handled that are more out of the ordinary and then it does make sense for me to say, “Oh no, I did this part correctly, so how did this happen?” and then we figure out what happened, so we can fix it. Or, if I did make a mistake I apologize and we move on.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      Sometimes this is the case. But in the scenario that the LW gives I don’t know if he can fix the issue. If the accounts manager gives him the email with the wrong ID, and if he has no way to verify the info, and his manager is saying fix it should be telling the accounts manager to fix it not the middle man.

  9. Melanie*

    If there is a way to verify the information that the account manager sends you, you should probably just start doing that and spare yourself the headache.

    If not, I would send a response to the account manager that says: Completed, see attached screenshot/file. Please review and advise of any clerical errors.

    1. Melanie*

      Did not mean to hit enter. Oops.

      to continue – but I think that would be more for your peace of mind since they might not even look at it.

      If there is any way for you to verify the information before you enter it, that would be your best solution. If you just have to trust the process, then I’m sure your manager is aware of that.

      You may just be overthinking :)

  10. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    I think you should resign yourself to the fact that if you bring up some else’s mistake, some people are going to see you as a tattletale no matter what, but that’s their problem and shouldn’t stop you from advocating for yourself. I would stick to facts that pertain to YOU only. “I input the number exactly as it was given to me in the email, and I double checked that it matched before submitting the form,” and then let the boss follow the trail if she so chooses — she might, she might not. I wouldn’t over explain either, that often times backfires and makes the truth sound suspicious.

    1. 3DogNight*

      And, those people are generally jerky in other ways, too, IMO.

      2nd the don’t over-explain. Keep it short and matter of fact.

    2. Kim*

      I agree with this. I also would caution against making friends with your coworkers. I once became friends with an incompetent coworker whose work I had to correct and re-correct (because she was both disorganized and couldn’t handle technology). Although I knew I needed to tell my boss because her incompetence was affecting my workload, I didn’t want her to think I stabbed her in the back (not to mention the very real possibility of her losing her job).

      I’ve also noticed some people are prone to be offended and will think you were blaming them even if you already phrased things in the passive voice and were trying to avoid names. This seems to be the common response though, unless my workplace just happens to be exceptionally toxic…

  11. SBH*

    Present them as solutions that don’t involve people. “Alex sent me a bogus account number” is bad. “I received an account number from x department where the numbers were transposed ; can we look into building an intake process to eliminate this waste going forward?” Often that intake process can be as simple as sending a confirmation email “I am building X setup for Y client with Z account number due by N date. Confirm?”

    Then if they hit confirm, it’s their responsibility.

  12. 3DogNight*

    I haven’t seen this called out yet. If you regularly own up to issues that are caused by you, then when an issue is not caused by you and you call that out, people are more likely to believe you. And, they’re not going to see it as blame casting. Particularly if you say it very matter of fact. “This is the data I was given, I’ll update the document, and get it back to you. I’ll also let Llama-Lisa know her data is wrong, so that it’s correct going forward.”

  13. A Simple Narwhal*

    My favorite way to say “this wasn’t my fault” without actually saying that is to go over exactly what you did and ask them to tell you how you could have done it better next time. Usually this highlights that you did everything right and the error came from elsewhere.

    Note: don’t do this snottily, it should be in a genuine “hmm well I don’t want this to be in issue in the future, here’s what I did this time: [step 1][step 2][etc], where could I do better next time?” conversation.

    1. azvlr*

      When this happened to me the other day, and I agonized over how to explain myself to my boss in a way that was neither taking the blame or throwing someone else under the bus, I was forced to step back and look at the broader pattern. The mistakes that were happening were all different, but my existing process meant that I wasn’t catching them until it was too late.

      I have now altered my process to review certain things sooner. The downside is that other pieces are less polished when the client reviews things the first time. I made a point to explain this and that the change was to help prevent X Y and Z mistakes in the future, and I’m fortunate that this client has the vision to see what the unfinished piece will look like. (My previous manager couldn’t stand to see any work “in its underwear”, let alone send it to client that way. It took me a while to get out of that habit after working for them.)

  14. Phony Genius*

    A lot depends on how you handle the mistakes of others. When you couldn’t set up the project, did you ask the account manager to verify the client ID, trying to work it out yourself, or did you just go to the boss with an “I can’t” attitude? Often, it is expected that employees try to work out errors themselves without involving managers, even if it involves going directly to the person who erred and asking them for corrected information. In this example scenario, only the two of you have to know an error was made to begin with.

  15. EditorPerson*

    This is when passive voice is your friend. “Looks like the number I was given was transposed.”

    1. TiffIf*

      That could actually be interpreted in two different ways, it could be the person who gave them the number who transposed it or it could be them trying to avoid responsibility.

      How about “Looks like I was given a transposed number.”

  16. TerraTenshi*

    If it’s already a pattern (and you have multiple examples) you’re probably well set-up to talk to your boss about it as being a larger issue you’re trying to solve. Either now or the next time it comes up (whichever makes more sense to you) I’d flag it for your boss as “I’ve noticed in the past [timeframe] we’ve had a number of these issues. For the most part they track back to information coming to me incorrectly. I’ve tried double checking everything that comes across my desk but doing so requires a significant time investment. Is there something else I could be doing to help prevent these issues? Or do you want me to go ahead with double checking everything knowing it could cause a slowdown?”

  17. Ama*

    This may not be as helpful to the OP at the moment since they are still fairly new to the job, but one thing I have found is that if I honestly own the mistakes I *do* make then when I need to say that a mistake is someone else’s fault it doesn’t just seem like blame shifting, because my boss and coworkers know that if it is my mistake I’ll say so and do my best to fix it. It can take some time to build that reputation, though.

    1. Kim*

      I wish I could agree. I always own my mistakes and figure out a way to fix them, while many if the people I’ve worked with simply shift the blame on another department or come up with excuses. So far, they seem to be trusted with more complex projects while I’m stuck with low-level assignments (to ensure that if I do make mistakes the results won’t be disastrous for the company).

  18. Goldenrod*

    Alison’s advice is excellent, and there is another very good reason to frame things this way. Every now and then, you’ll actually be wrong – and the person didn’t make a mistake, YOU did!

    I’ve found that by being gracious, tactful and kind, you totally avoid the embarrassing feeling of suddenly realizing something was actually your OWN mistake. Then you can just lightly own up to it (“whoops, my bad!”) without creating unnecessary bad feeling.

  19. BSS*

    Interesting dilemma: you don’t want an undeserved reputation for making mistakes; on the other hand, you probably don’t want a reputation for pointing out out other people’s mistakes, even if you do so correctly. People won’t enjoy working with you if they feel they have to be extra-vigilant about typos and such.

    People make mistakes all the time in my workplace. If I tell my boss anything, it’s: “A error happened and here’s how I corrected it.” And sometimes, “Here’s an idea for how we can catch that type of error before it becomes a problem.” It’s rarely necessary to say who made the mistake.

    1. LizM*

      I think the key is to focus on the mistakes that actually matter.

      No one really cares if you use “due to” instead of “because” improperly (this is one of my husband’s pet peeves, I still don’t understand the difference, but he insists there is one). Or more applicable here, if someone makes a mistake, but you have the systems in place to catch it, your boss doesn’t need to know every time the system catches the mistake. That’s why you have that system.

      I was on a team a few years ago where someone created plans and left the units off the measurements. They drew everything in meters, at some point, someone interpreted it as feet. It cost a lot of money and time to fix that mistake. It was 100% worth my time tracing back the email chain to show that the info I was provided very clearly said that the measurements were in feet. I have no idea if the person who sent me that email was where the mistake originated or if he was able to trace it back further, or who’s job it was to catch the missing units, I figured if it was important to my boss, he’d trace it back as far as he needed to.

      1. LizM*

        Oops, hit send too soon. The other key is to stay matter of fact and focus on what you did or didn’t do. This was a few years ago, but if I remember right, I forwarded the email chain to my boss with a note about how I went back through my email, and confirmed that the info came to me saying “feet.” So the mix up must have happened before it got to my team, but I didn’t have any info about the previous team’s process, so I can’t speak to what happened there.

        1. LizM*

          This wasn’t our team, but we did make a few jokes about conversions of units not being rocket science.

    2. RecoveringSWO*

      “People won’t enjoy working with you if they feel they have to be extra-vigilant about typos and such.” Not everyone has the time or is in the position for this, but I found that a collaborative approach on fixing results can help here. You tell them about the issue you caught and say something like “boss will ask me about this, so let’s come up with some way that you/we are ensuring this doesn’t happen again. Then I can tell boss about our solution ASAP and she won’t focus on pinpointing blame.” This worked well for me.

  20. Autumnheart*

    This can definitely wind up being an issue for individuals when the workplace has a “S*** rolls downhill” sort of environment. If the final product is critical, but blame tends to adhere to the last individual/team who touched it, then that provides no accountability for everyone upstream to make sure their work is accurate.

    +1 to scripts like, “I doublechecked the data I was given, and it looks like the entry in question had transposed numbers, I’ll follow up with that team to make sure these numbers are checked before hand-off” which professionally assigns blame to the correct party.

    And yeah, it matters who made the mistake. If you’re getting blamed for mistakes, and as a result you develop a reputation for making mistakes, then management may assume that they can get rid of mistakes by getting rid of you. Then you’re out of a job and your reputation is that you’re not reliable, which sucks and isn’t fair. In a workplace that has an interest in optimizing the PROCESS and in accountability, then making a mistake should be treated as a normal thing (people are human, after all) but also enough of a concern to address. Hopefully management doesn’t overreact to mistakes, thereby making it more profitable for people to avoid accountability. A workplace should have the kind of accountability and integrity where someone can say, “Oops, that was my bad. I’ll make sure to check my numbers before handing off” without worrying that they’re going to be like garbage for doing it. Otherwise, mistakes will go unresolved until they create serious problems! Because nobody will want to put a target on their back.

    So that’s basically two parts to the situation, not just one. The first one is, “How to be accountable without being blamed for problems you weren’t responsible for” and the other is “How does management address mistakes and blame in the workplace in order to foster a workplace that has integrity”?

  21. SentientAmoeba*

    From personal experience, addressing the issue as matter of factly as possible is the way to go.

    Boss: There was a mistake made here.

    You: Ok, I reviewed the action and is appears the Client ID# was transposed when I got the email. Going forward, I will try to ensure that this is caught before I send it on.

    You’ve identified the issue, your role in it and what you intend to do within your control. No tattling. If it’s a one off, then we are human. If it comes up frequently, collect data and escalate.

    You: Hey boss, I just wanted to let you know, 15 of the last 25 emails I got from the account managers had problems with the client ID. Hopefully, no errors got by me, but can you reach out to their manager to see if there is a way we can avoid these errors?

  22. JSPA*

    To boss: “The account number for Client Two came to me transposed. I’ve corrected it here, and am also flagging the correction back up the email chain, in case it’s wrong in someone else’s files or spreadsheet. Is there any other action I should be taking?”

    To sender: “Subject line: account number typo. Dear Jan, The account number for Client Two is 5552255 not 5522555. It’s an easy typo, but in case it’s wrong in your files or notes, I’m flagging it back to you. Thanks!”

  23. Bookworm*

    Is there any way to do a “copy-edit” ie have someone else verify the numbers are correct?

    A “small” step might be to ask someone (either the original sender, an intern, etc.) to ask them to do a quick copy edit/quality control type of process where they verify everything was entered correctly.

    I had something like this happen, where work I produced was eventually published on a website. I worked with someone who was not as experienced in her career and we started to have small issues with errors, processes, etc. It got to the point where I created two separate pieces that weren’t updated. I didn’t know how to bring it up (strictly speaking, Co-worker and I had different managers).

    But I was “covered” (ie I wouldn’t have looked like a nincompoop) because my manager did edits and then these pieces through a verification process to make sure all the links are correct, that I don’t say the sky is green or something else that is untrue. Manager actually caught that one of these pieces were not updated. *He* brought it up and I took that as an opportunity to let him know of the situation (the other piece was also not updated and I didn’t know how to handle this).

    Manager understood my quandary: this had not gone through a final copy edit to verify everything was actually on the website, this was an escalating problem and that it was a bit dicey as to how to approach addressing it. But as I mentioned, the processes on “my” side of the project covered me and my boss knew it wasn’t my fault, especially as I don’t do the final website upload and highlighted every section that needed to be updated in the drafts. Like, short of tagging Co-worker for every single section that needed updating there wasn’t much more hand-holding I could do.

    As this overarching project was due to be sunsetted anyway it “worked out” and Co-worker has left the field entirely.

    Unfortunately some people are just not as detailed or don’t realize that maybe someone else needs that extra step. I hope you find something that will work for you. Good luck.

  24. LizM*

    I would frame it not as tattling, but as providing your manager information they need to effectively manage the team. If we’re consistently making mistakes that are costing us time and money, and I’m assuming it’s happening because you’re being sloppy, I’m focusing on that, and not spending my time on fixing the actual issue, whether it be the need for more checks and balances or addressing poor performance upstream.

  25. Mimi*

    This would come up when I was involved in onboarding. Jeanne Warbleworth’s onboarding ticket would reach IT as Jeane Warbleworth, and often the mistake wouldn’t be caught until Jeanne’s first day, which is a horrible way to start your first day at a new company. Also it caused huge headaches for IT because all the accounts had to be re-done in a rush, and didn’t always update properly (gmail is notorious for this).

    I asked my boss, “Can you please reach out to HR and make sure that they understand that it is VERY IMPORTANT that we be given the new hire’s name correctly? If it’s wrong it causes us a lot of extra work and is a bad experience for the new hire. Those of us making the accounts are very careful to always copy-paste names, but that doesn’t help if the names are wrong in the tickets.”

    The incidence of the problem decreased dramatically after that conversation (and went away entirely when we managed to automate the tickets a little more).

  26. Sparrow*

    I run into this problem a lot at my job, so I’m interested in the responses here. In my case it’s my boss who has ADHD and is not great with details, while I am a super detail-oriented person. We’re both responsible for documenting the specifications for a process – so for example, say we’re painting teapots, and people can contact either of us to let us know what color a particular teapot should be. But sometimes he forgets to write down what color the lid is supposed to be, so I end up painting it the wrong color; or he forgets to check the documentation that I wrote down before he goes ahead and paints the spout, and he ends up painting it the wrong color. When this happens, my grandboss tends to ask the two of us what went wrong. I don’t want to take the blame for my boss’s mistake, but I also don’t want to rat my boss out to his boss. So it usually ends up being “Sparrow and Boss had a miscommuication”… which is unsatisfying for me, because I don’t want to look unreliable. :/

  27. NYC Taxi*

    As a long time manager this is the absolutely correct answer. I really don’t care if it was Jane in accounting, I just want it fixed, and want to hear a solution or steps you’ve taken to reduce these issues.

    And when you throw your coworkers under the bus instead of just fixing the problem it makes me think less of your abilities, not Jane’s.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I’m sorry but that sounds a little harsh. It really depends on the situation.
      Here is a scenario for you: LW gets the email from the account manager with all the client info. The ID is incorrect. LW doesn’t have a way to look up client ID. They can only go on what is provided. If Adam, the account manager, made the mistake with the ID is it really throwing the coworker under the bus if they say “oh well i copied the information from the email that adam sent me. That’s not throwing someone under the bus. that’s just stating a fact and covering your own back.

    2. DyneinWalking*

      That only works if no one is going to be blamed for it anyway, – then you can have this “happy” scenario where no-one is getting thrown under the bus.

      But if anyone is even the least bit interested in who made the mistake, or if the problem is recurring so people take notice, LW really only has the choice between throwing their coworker(s) under the bus, or throwing themselves under the bus. And if someone is going to get the blame and take the fall for those mistakes, it should definitely be the person who caused them. Requesting that LW sacrifice their reputation for someone else is cruel, and also it wouldn’t be helpful for anyone involved. The mistakes would still keep happening, after all, which to prevent is presumably the main goal here.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Really? As a manager in IT I’d definately WANT to know if data was getting borked up at input time – and who was actually causing the fault.

      It’s no point me trying to troubleshoot an issue with system X when it’s actually person Y causing us to be out by a mile.

  28. Aggretsuko*

    I’ve been told at my job that anything related to my area IS my fault/mistake, what have you, even if it isn’t. So in general, that’s kind of how it works, especially when you can’t prove that it wasn’t you.

    Honestly, this kind of thing is a fine line between looking like a slacker/shirker/person who won’t take responsibility or looking like someone who can’t get anything right, and I’m not entirely sure what that line is.

    What angle you might want to take is that if the other parties involved are perennially sending you the wrong typo’d information, is there anything your group can do to help with that. For example, one group would send me very long lists of things I would take 12 hours to go through checking because they weren’t using anything standardized/just typing manually into the system. The powers that be figured out a proofreading/report system to check this stuff, to the point where literally I don’t have to check them any more. Maybe something along those lines could work for you.

  29. KR*

    Oh I’ve run into this. I buy parts a lot and it happens sometimes that I clear the part with the relevant parties and order it, and then it ends up being the wrong thing and it’s always my fault somehow even though I’m not physically at the location to check part numbers/so on and I don’t have the technical know-how to understand the differences in all the different parts we order (I’m the money person and they’re the tech person). I save all the emails where people provide me with relevant info just for my own sanity. My role is another one where something will happen and it’s suddenly my fault for not independently verifying the info when someone in my role doesn’t always have the technical know how or access to information to even verify that info. Sometimes when something goes wrong I’ll tell my manager like “Just so you know I was emailing with so and so and they didn’t flag this as the incorrect part number.” because I totally get the desire to clear your name when you didn’t make the mistake.

  30. Chilipepper*

    I feel like many comments are focused on the one example of account numbers. But I got the sense from the letter that there are lots of small errors in different areas.

    How should the OP handle it is that is the case. They can say each time, oh, indeed, other person did x. Here is how I can double check that on my end.

    But is it with having a convo with the boss to say, there are many tiny things, they are not all me? How would that go?

    1. londonedit*

      I’d say something like ‘I’m noticing that there are often small errors in the material I’m getting from Department X and Department Z, and these are impacting on the work I’m doing. I’m happy to fix things when they’re brought to my attention, but I worry that it reflects badly on me/our department when other people pick up on these mistakes. Is there a way we can work with Departments X and Z to make sure we’re receiving the correct information?’

      1. Troutwaxer*

        Maybe keeping records on the mistakes is something that’s worth doing, so after a period of time you can say “all this Dept. X” or whatever seems appropriate.

  31. Wendy Darling*

    I actually have this exact problem except I have historically been the error source more often than not — I have dyscalculia and I also have a job that involves constant work with 5-digit ID numbers. If they had custom designed a system to make me make errors they could not have done better.

    One of the things that’s been really important for me is that while I absolutely take responsibility for my errors, I also am very assertive about pointing out when part of a process invites errors. If people are transposing numbers in these codes all the time, it probably makes sense to implement some kind of process change made so that they don’t have to type the numbers, or to add some kind of checks that will flag mistakes earlier. For me this basically meant the new rule was Wendy never types numbers — I track everything in spreadsheets and copy and paste the ID codes 100% of the time, because that way there’s no opening for me to mess it up. Sometimes it’s awkward, but not as awkward as fixing the mess when I do a bunch of stuff to the wrong job because I switched digits in a job ID.

    I think if this is a frequent thing you can bring it up in not a blame way but a “this is a problem with our current process” way. Ideally Jane wouldn’t be making these errors, obviously, but the bigger problem is that right now you’ve got a process that’s very easy to make mistakes in, doesn’t have any checks for those mistakes, and making a mistake results in things being late. People are never going to be infallible, so it sounds like that process could use a safety net.

  32. Not My Usual Name*

    How does this play out when the person who made the mistakes is your predecessor? My predecessor, for a variety of reasons, enjoyed a lot of presumed competence because they were 90% fantastic at their job, especially the parts of their job that were very public-facing. The problem, though, is that there’s another 10% of operational work that, while less visible to the higher-ups, was full of catastrophic errors that were likely a result of process issues. My predecessor worked very independently, so the people who perhaps should have been able to prevent these errors from happening had no idea what was going on.

    Meanwhile, I’ve inherited these errors, they are affecting my work and how its viewed, and the workarounds that I need to make to salvage things are challenging and time-consuming. What do I do?

    1. Not My Usual Name*

      Also I should point out that my predecessor left our company and these issues were only uncovered once I started.

    2. DyneinWalking*

      Could you be proactive about your workarounds? I.e. go to your boss before you fix something and say, I found issues x and y with the work I’ve inherited and am thinking I’ll implement solutions a and b, does that sound ok to you?

      Given the presumed competence of your predecessor, you might want to pick a couple of less-damning errors that still need to be addressed as a starting point, and cautiously work your way up from there.

    3. MCMonkeybean*

      That’s the best case scenario for errors, when you can blame them on someone who isn’t there anymore! I’d still use a lot of the same tactics though–passive phrasing, not using specific names even though it’s obvious who you are talking about. And it’s always best if you can also talk about what you have already done to make sure the error doesn’t happen again. So something like “The file was set up to calculate based on Y which caused this issue but I’ve corrected it to calculate based on Z going forward.” They know who set up the file and that it wasn’t you, but it’s just stating facts.

  33. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    This is a really important skill to hone. In my last job, I was so eager to be a team player that the first time I was sat down for a major error, I just accepted the blame and said I’d look into the source of it. It turned out to be someone else, with more seniority who was actually a boss’s favorite, who made the mistake. But at that point it was too late, and my bosses did not believe me when I tried to enter the correction. It followed me around for the rest of my time there. There obviously was a lot more wrong with that job, but I think to some extent it could have been avoided had I just stood up for myself a little bit in the first place.

  34. Wintermute*

    In my industry, IT ops, mistake attribution is a big deal, especially in ops center environments where many people over multiple shifts will work the same issue, which may be serious.

    I think there’s a few helpful things to keep in mind:

    1) In a functional company, mistakes are seen primarily as a learning opportunity if they are not part of a pattern that shows a technician is dangerously inattentive or engaging in improper behavior. A boss has a higher-level view that will show them patterns you may not see, both across many employees and with a particular employee.

    2) It’s vital for a boss to know where knowledge gaps and competencies may lie. Both organizationally (we seem to have a high time-to-fix with web server issues, why is that?) and personally (Fergus seems to struggle with Cisco routers). This is used to guide development, maybe the whole team needs more training, maybe the procedures are bad or have a gap that causes failures. It can also identify where your tools are insufficient to get the job done. In the case of a one-person problem maybe Fergus needs to sit with a mentor who has strong knowledge in the area or be sent to a certification bootcamp. It can also guide a their decisions about staffing– maybe the solution is just to have Fergus work on your Juniper routers in the core network which he knows better, maybe he should be put on first shift where he has more resources available to call in to help as opposed to third shift when he’s on his own to fix issues.

    3) Good managers hold people accountable for good performance. To do that they need to know the truth about who is doing what and what mistakes are being made. You may not see the full situation of someone’s performance, maybe they have talked to their boss about their workload and how it’s more than they can handle and showing them a few preventable mistakes helps them make that case because they’re known for their reliability and attention to detail normally and now they can say “look, you know this wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t working on all these projects, I am worried about protecting my reputation here.” Maybe they’ve introduced a new process and this will show it’s not catching mistakes the way the old one did.
    It’s also vital to make sure that you don’t take the blame for things that are not your fault because it makes it look like you are the problem and it denies them the opportunity to develop, manage and hold accountable the true culprits.

    4) In a fair company, no one is going to be punished excessively and workload should be such that being attentive and checking your work should be possible. If that’s NOT true (and it wasn’t on both counts at a company I worked for) then it’s more reasonable to take a position of just quietly cleaning up to the best of your ability and only going to managers about things that will cause a serious impact which you cannot simply clean up and keep to yourself. Hiding mistakes hurts their ability to actually manage.

    5) tied in to #3, your reputation is important, don’t let yourself get saddled with an unfair reputation for incompetence or being inattentive on a coworker’s account! It’s not your fault and you shouldn’t risk the career repercussions.

  35. Chas*

    I definetely agree with avoiding naming specific people when talking about mistakes, where posssible.

    While it’s not quite the same situation, there was one time I made a costly mistake, largely because I’d mis-understood an old document that wasn’t formatted in the same way as other documents I’d been working off of previously. It just so happened that my boss was the one who’d sent me that document (because it had been stored on his computer as a backup from when someone in his old team had made it). So when the mistake became apparent and he asked me how it had happened, I started with ‘Well, the document you sent me was laid out differently from ones I’ve used before, and so I thought that…”

    But despite my meaning that in the sense of ‘The reason this happened was because I misunderstood the document (that I happened to get from you)’ my boss acted like I’d said ‘The reason this happened is because you sent me a bad document’ and snapped at me that he was too busy to be checking complicated documents like these and he’d hired me expecting me to be experienced enough to do this sort of thing by myself, etc etc… And even after he’d calmed down enough for me to explain that I hadn’t meant it was his fault, (just that I was clarifying where I got the document from) he was still in a bad mood with me and brought it up a couple of times over the next month or so (especially whenever we had to discuss the fixes to that project) that he was so busy with his own work and I had to learn to double check these things myself… which I have done and would have done regardless, but it would have been a much smoother process for me at the time if I hadn’t accidentally implied that my boss was responsible for the problem.

  36. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Maybe becasue I’ve worked my (majority) career in IT and IT management I see this a bit differently: I definitely want to know the real root cause of an error. There’s no need to cast blame like ‘oh Jane did this, she’s stupid’ but I’d really love someone to give me say, the original input text and say ‘I got this from Jane, typed it in exactly as was given’.

    Then I’m just being given the facts, how and if I associate blame is up to me.

    I’ve spent too many times delving hours long into system code, database backups etc. to be told that someone simply imported in the wrong file and oops they didn’t admit it until 2 days later.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Yep. Been there, done that. If the real explanation is “someone made a typo in an email,” these things happen and the best way forward is come up with a system that takes the occasional typo into account.

  37. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

    In my view tattling is sharing information with the primary goal of getting someone in trouble. That’s not your aim so I definitely agree with using Allison’s term instead.
    Basically you’re trying to improve processes so there are less mistakes. Just talk about what happened impartially and objectively and you should be fine. (Also talk about your own mistakes in the same way.)

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