Everyone’s had one—the review that didn’t go well. Maybe you overcharged a client, missed a deadline or bungled a project. Or perhaps you didn’t hit it off with a new account, failed to make your goals, or didn’t quite carry your weight on the last team.
When bad news is inevitable, it may still be possible to turn the situation around—if you keep a clear head and know what to do.
If your boss calls you in to warn you about a mistake you made, be respectful and be alert. Warnings and negative attention from your boss need to be taken seriously. You are fortunate to get a second chance. You are unlikely to get a third.
Here’s what to focus on when the situation hits the fan:
1. Get clarity. It’s critical to understand what your boss wants you to correct. Don’t assume, interrupt, or confess. Ask for details, and keep asking until you know exactly what it was that went sour. Make sure that you are on the same page with your boss by repeating what was said. It won’t help if you fix things that aren’t broken and overlook the things that need attention.
2. Apologize for the problems you have caused your boss. It’s very likely that your supervisor or manager has been embarrassed by your mistake. He or she may have been called on the carpet by the big boss, especially if your mistake cost the company money or caused a problem with a client relationship. Your boss is human, and he or she doesn’t enjoy getting in trouble any more than you do. Getting in trouble for the actions of someone else is even more upsetting. Own up to the fact that you’ve caused a problem, and apologize.
3. Take responsibility for the problem and for correcting the problem. Now is not the time to be defensive or blame others. You’ll be more likely to earn a second chance if you own the problem (even if it wasn’t entirely your fault) and have a plan to set things right. Look at it this way: if you own the problem, you control the solution.
4. Immediately create a plan and put it in place so the problem won’t happen again. Provide a copy either verbally or in writing (depending on what your boss wants) and outline how any future or potential problems will be avoided.
5. Get agreement from your boss on how and when you can give and receive communication updates and get feedback on your status as you try to get back on track. In these check-in sessions you should strive to make sure that you are on track from your boss’s perspective, and to get wind of any issues before they become real problems. Don’t assume that everything is going fine, and don’t wait for your boss to give you an update. Schedule regular communication with your boss. Regular communication leaves fewer chances for misunderstandings, and helps you avoid being unpleasantly surprised.
6. Do a self-evaluation in private, and be brutally honest. Don’t whine, make excuses or justify what happened. Ask yourself, why did the mistake happen? What was the chain of events that led up to the problem? In hindsight, can you see where things began to go wrong? Where might you have gotten back on track? Was there a point of no return, and if so, what kept you from realizing how serious things were? Be honest with yourself, and ask yourself how the situation could have been avoided, how you might fix it now, and what you can do to avoid a similar problem in the future.
7. Be particularly sensitive to your boss. I know, that is difficult when you’ve been called on the carpet, but remember, your boss has probably already been reprimanded by his/her boss because of your mistake. Your boss will likely be angry and will be disappointed in you. Use all your people skills to be attuned to how often your boss wants you to communicate and make sure you do as directed.
8. Take ownership of the situation that now exists with your boss and between you and the company. Stay focused on the problem your boss has outlined as an area for improvement, and demonstrate your commitment by improving immediately and consistently.
9. Look for ways that you can bring value to your boss. Make sure you understand your boss’s priorities and make them your own. Your goal is to change your boss’s perception of you so that he/she sees you as a valuable employee.
10. Look for some ways you can score some wins by doing the very best you can at every task. Look for opportunities to make you and your boss look good, and be sure to give your boss credit for everything that goes right. Go above and beyond what you’re asked to do, and without being obnoxious, make sure you get noticed for good work. People tend to remember recent information more than what happened in the past, so if you turn over a new leaf and become the best employee ever, that impression will overshadow past mistakes. Strengthen your reputation with successes.
No one enjoys negative feedback, but when you realize you’ve been given the gift of a second chance, you can make the most of a bad situation. Resolve to make a wakeup call into a success story!