columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I've got a question regarding how much "mistake tolerance" is expected in the workplace.

I have very low, almost zero, tolerance for mistakes. Whenever I see a mistake in anyone's work, especially trivial ones, I will get very angry. The rationale in my head is always, "We have one job and one job only, and that's to get this done! No excuses." As such, I will remove the person from the project, in addition to having a detailed (sometimes heated) conversation with the person about why such mistakes are not allowed in my team.

So, how bad is this? I sort of know my intolerance is not good. But I just cannot forgive mistakes easily. Do you have any advice?

Green responds:

What you're doing sounds pretty bad.

First, your expectations about normal amounts of errors are off. People are going to make mistakes, because you work with humans, not robots, and humans make mistakes. If someone makes a mistake occasionally, that is normal -- and you should see it as normal and not an outrage. Perhaps you're the very rare person who truly never makes mistakes in your work. If so, you're something of a unicorn. That's not typical. If you are that unicorn, good for you -- that's a rare talent. But if you want to work with other people, you have to recognize that you're not normal; if you expect others to be unicorns too, no one will want to work with you, because you'll be out of touch with reality.

Second, you're taking it really personally when mistakes happen and you're having an emotional reaction where one isn't warranted, rather than handling it professionally. (Which is a mistake in itself! So there's some irony there.)

Third, if you react to mistakes so harshly, you will end up with a team of employees who try to hide their mistakes from you (a much bigger problem than any mistake on its own would be), are afraid to take risks in case something goes wrong, and are demoralized and resentful and likely to leave as soon as they can.

Here's the thing that you're losing sight of: At work, you have the tools you need to solve problems calmly and rationally. Getting angry and emotional says to other people that you don't know how to do that. It makes you look out of control, and it can make you look inept. You don't want that.

Your goal needs to be to solve the problem, not to punish people or let them know how wrong they are or how much they frustrated you. Instead of having a heated reaction, you need to deliver information calmly and clearly.

That means that if someone makes a single mistake, all you need to do is say something like this: "I found mistake X. Can you take a look at it and fix it for me today?" If relevant, you can add, "Let me know if you're not clear on what I'm talking about and I can walk you through it" or "Can you figure out how that happened so we can make sure to avoid it in future rounds?"

Now, obviously there's a point where someone is making too many mistakes. If someone makes mistakes regularly, you need to address that pattern with them (again, calmly and matter-of-factly) and look at whether they need more training or coaching and whether they're well suited for their role.

But there's almost no reason to ever have a heated conversation over a mistake. This stuff shouldn't be so emotional.

If you find that you can't control your emotions about mistakes, it's probably worth exploring with a competent therapist -- because a pattern of strong negative reactions to something that doesn't warrant that intensity is usually connected to something more deeply rooted, and very often isn't about work at all.

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