Inc.com 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 been at my current job as an editor for two years now and I report to a manager who reports to the director. The director assigns me work often. She doesn't really work with any of the other editors directly, so I feel like she really trusts me. In all the time I've been there, I've never been reprimanded. Many of my co-workers complain about the director's attitude but to me she's always been very nice.

Earlier last week she called me into her office and gently let me know that I didn't catch something I should have or emailed her to let her know. She was really nice about it and basically said it was OK because I usually always do catch things like that. The thing is, I did catch it and I did email her about it. I also sent her a follow-up email when she didn't respond. She misses emails often because she gets so many, but she usually sees it when you send her a follow-up. I wanted to mention that I did email her, but instead I just apologized since she didn't make a big deal out of it so I didn't want to look overly sensitive.

Then last Friday a very similar mistake came through and again I caught it and sent her an email. First thing this morning, she sent me an email asking why I didn't catch it when we talked about a similar scenario last week. This is the second time I did email her and she didn't see it. Again, I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure how to let her know without sounding like I'm saying she didn't check her email. If this happens again, how should I handle it?

Green responds:

You're actually doing yourself and your boss a disservice by not correcting the record in each of these two cases. You're allowing your boss to have incorrect information, and no sane boss wants that.

The thing to do the first time it happened would have been to say, "Oh, I actually did email you about that. Did you not receive it? I can check to make sure I'm not misremembering." And then you could have checked and, assuming you did indeed find the sent email, you could forward it to her with a note saying, "Ah, just wanted to confirm that I did send this--sounds like it might not have made its way to you though!"

The idea here isn't to play a game of gotcha, or even to defend yourself--it's to simply and matter-of-factly correct the record so that she's not working off of bad information.

Giving your boss correct information isn't accusing her of not checking her emails. People miss emails for all sorts of reasons--a tech error, a simple oversight, a crazily overloaded inbox. It's not a moral judgment on her. (But you know what is a moral judgment? Thinking that she couldn't handle you just explaining that you did send the email. I'd be totally taken aback if I found out that an employee wasn't speaking up when I criticized them incorrectly on something so objectively black and white.)

But you can actually go back and correct the record now. Say something like, "I could have sworn that I did email you about X and Y, so I went back to check--and I was able to find the emails. I'm forwarding them along just in case there's an issue with my email or yours!"

You really need to do this--if no other reason than if you make an actual mistake in the next few months, you want it to look like No. 1, not No. 3.
 

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Apr 15, 2019