How To Tell A Coworker They’ve Made A Mistake

A fellow coworker comes to you and asks you to review their completed project. You take a glance and there is a problem, and it’s a big one. There’s not just a missing data slide or a few misspelled words, but the whole project is wrong and definitely needs to be re-done.

You absolutely need to tell them there are errors or discrepancies. You don’t want to sound like a “know-it-all” or come across condescending but you just can’t let them proceed with a project that completely missed the mark.

So, exactly how do you tell them they are wrong? Whether it’s your office BFF, a new hire, or even your supervisor, there are a few tips on how to handle this potentially difficult conversation.

Read further for tips on how to tell your coworker they made a mistake:

1: Begin With a Compliment and Follow up with a question.

When your entire gut is screaming “Well that’s wrong!” it’s best to stop and think before you respond.  Start by giving a compliment. Give recognition for what was actually done well, then lead into the areas needing improvement.

Steer the conversation with directional questions. Try asking them something like, “Can you take another glance or go through [incorrect area]?” When you use a question you are automatically placing yourself and your colleague in a collaborative state of mind.

Be sure to be explicit when pointing out the areas in question, such as a specific slide, or paragraph that needs adjustments. In doing so, you are giving your coworker the opportunity to recognize their own errors.

2: “Oops, I’ve made this error before, too!”

No matter what the delivery style of your constructive criticism is, sometimes it can feel like an attack when someone’s on the receiving end. Consider using sentences like “I see where you’re coming from” or “I’ve had to adjust that before too.” By conveying you relate to the error your coworker has made, they may feel more open to receiving your critique. 

By grouping yourself with your colleague you can come across more approachable. Your conversation can be received as supportive rather than an attack on their work.

3: Offer Help.

Rather than just telling them they are wrong, follow the above steps. You can go even further and offer to provide more detailed advice or assistance. Consider offering resources if you had in fact made the same errors before or know how they can be fixed. Your coworker clearly thinks highly of your opinion or they wouldn’t have brought their project to you in the first place. If they do want your direct assistance, remember to be supportive, direct, and non-accusatory. Your overall tone can make or break the start of the conversation so you’ll want to sound empathetic and encouraging when providing help.

In some instances you may find yourself walking a fine line between constructive criticism and being patronizing or condescending. It’s not always easy to know exactly how to best provide feedback or offer advice when asked. Knowing where to start can help you navigate these potentially difficult conversations with coworkers. Being an ally for your team members will benefit all of you. You can be straightforward without being brutal so lean on these suggestions instead of flat out saying, “You screwed up!”