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How to Deal With a Boss When It's His Mistake and Not Yours

by Stephanie Dube Dwilson

Battling a boss is sometimes a risky proposition that can end with your losing your job. When your boss blames you for a mistake that he made, finding the right response can feel like tiptoeing through a mine field. The trick is to not let your pride get in the way, but to also not hurt your future at the company.

When to Take the Blame

If the stakes are low, your best course of action might be to accept the blame even if you didn't do anything wrong. Sometimes challenging your boss will just cost you in the long run. If he's acting irrationally, your attempt to protect yourself might be viewed as an attack. Instead, accept the blame to help your boss feel like he is in control and focus on finding solutions. If you can find a good solution, you might end up looking like the hero to your boss.

When Your Career is at Stake

If the mistake is something so large that accepting blame could put your career at risk or give you legal liability, then don't accept guilt. But try not to point the finger at your boss either, which might cause him to react defensively. Instead, reiterate the facts of the situation, acknowledge the feelings that your boss has expressed and then move quickly to finding a solution. Ask your boss what you should do to help solve the problem. In this way, you are showing that you're a team player and ready to help, but you're not accepting blame.

How to Cope

If your boss makes a habit of blaming other people for her mistakes, you might be tempted to quit. But, sometimes, quitting is a bad financial decision and you need to find ways to hold out. Try to find common ground with your boss, like focusing on your shared goal of earning a living or improving the company. Talk to him about your concerns; sometimes your boss doesn't realize just how difficult she's being. Show your value, make significant accomplishments on the job and make your boss look good to his bosses. By making your boss shine, he will appreciate you more and maybe not come down as hard on you. If everything else fails, just wait it out. Chances are he won't last for too long.

Pointing Out an Error

If you need to point out an error to your boss, there are ways to do so diplomatically. Try not to act accusingly or point fingers. Instead, stick to the facts and make your message impersonal. Ask if the boss has noticed the issue already, or mention that you know he would want you to tell him about a certain situation. This gives your boss a chance to still look like he's in control. Tell him in the beginning of your conversation that you're not trying to be critical, or ask his advice on taking a different approach. The point isn't to catch him in a mistake, but to point out a situation and offer to help remedy it.

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