I Didn’t Do That

Long ago, I wrote the best answer to any failure on your part is, “It won’t happen again.” More recently, I explained why “I didn’t know” is a problematic answer.

But do you know what the worst answer is? “I didn’t do that.”

If you really, truly did not do whatever went wrong, you have to weigh the pros and cons of throwing someone else under the bus.

The cons may not be obvious: You’ll make an enemy of whoever you threw under the bus, of course. But nobody likes a bus-thrower, not even your boss. You’ll get a reputation as someone who rats out her co-workers. The rest of the crew will stop trusting you.

As far as pros… I guess you’ll feel better about yourself for a minute or two? I guarantee your boss won’t remember whether you did or didn’t make a particular mistake. She’s got too much going on. It’s basically all negative, and no positive.

But worse than throwing someone under the bus is merely denying that you made a mistake at all, when you clearly did.

As an example, I received this email earlier in the week:

Hi TAPA,Happy Monday. Just found this ad on Craigslist in my area. I realize I have zero experience. I would like to apply for this position.Thoughts???[Name redacted] **PART-TIME PARALEGAL NEEDED FOR THIS PRODUCTION**
Camera, Lighting, Sound/ Audio, Special Effects, Public Relations/ Journalist, Fashion Stylist, Make Up/ Hair, & Seamstress.

That’s pretty awful, right? I had to read it a couple times to even figure out what was going on. Once I did, I replied thusly:

Look at this email. Seriously, go back and read the email you sent me.

There is no subject line. Your letter is in the middle of the ad, with no distinction between their text and yours. You use THREE question marks in a row. You don’t use any paragraph breaks.

This is not how one should write.

This is how the writer responded:

Thank you for taking the time to critique me. It is graciously appreciated.

It was sent without a subject in the subject line. My bad. It was not however, sent with me typing in the middle of the ad.

Gracious as his email was, that’s still… not the right way take criticism. First, the reader ignored most of my critiques.1 But more importantly, he denied having made one of the bigger mistakes.

Maybe he didn’t intend to include his email in the middle of the Craigslist ad, but it happened. He hit send.

And that’s where people get mixed up most often, I think. They confuse their intention with what they actually did.

Now, obviously, I’m not going to fire this writer.2 But if I was his boss, what would my take away be? Yes, he made a mistake. But he didn’t learn from his mistake. He’ll likely make it, or others like it, again.

So, I want you, dear reader, to learn. If you screw up, even if it’s in a way you didn’t intend, perhaps especially then– don’t deny it. Figure out what happened. See what you did wrong, and learn from that. Don’t do it again.

And, as always, don’t tell your boss what went wrong. Just say, “It won’t happen again.”

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Three question marks? So not okay!!!
  2. What would that even entail?
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2 Responses

  1. And, of course, once you say, “It won’t happen again”, you make sure it doesn’t. Making the same mistake over and over again is a good way to get fired (on most shows).

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