We’re all human, and humans make mistakes. But what happens when your boss makes a mistake? What do you do? Telling your boss he or she is wrong can be risky and nerve-racking, but if you do it gracefully, you can take the heat off a potentially bad situation.

Speak Up or Quiet Down?
First thing first, you need to determine whether or not identifying an error would be beneficial. Will it solve the problem, or is it too late? The old adage still holds true; pick your battles to win the war. If no solution comes from letting your boss know he/she made a mistake, then it’s best to let it lie. If you don’t, you risk giving your boss the impression you’re disruptive and not a team player.

If you believe bringing an issue to your boss’s attention will produce a better outcome, then you need to do it. If you let it go and your boss catches it him/herself, your boss will find you unreliable.

Nobody likes to be called out if they make a mistake, especially in front of others. So if you expect your boss to talk to you privately when you make a mistake, give him/her the same courtesy. Talking privately reduces embarrassment and defensiveness. However, when you do pull your boss aside, do not walk into the discussion angry and say, “You’re wrong.” Instead, give yourself time to calm down and follow these steps:

  • Ease the tension: Let your boss know you respect his/her viewpoint. Then clearly state the intent of the conversation. This helps your boss know you have a different opinion, but you are working toward the same goal.
  • Stick with the facts: Keep your emotions out of the discussion. The more objective you keep the conversation, the better.
  • Agree where you can: If there’s a part of your boss’s original idea you like, make it known so your boss realizes you’re trying to work with him/her, not against.
  • Invite dialogue: Talking out an issue is one of the best things you and your boss can do. Encourage your boss to share his/her perspective in order to have an open and honest discussion.

Afterwards, it’s best not to dwell on your boss’s mistake, because even if you’re 100 percent sure you’re right, there is always that slight chance things may not be as they seem. Specifically, your boss may be more in tune with the company’s values and policies, and your idea might not line up. Your boss also might have more insight than you think on the issue, as he/she probably has more direct contact with top decision makers. Keep that in mind, so you don’t make a poor judgment call.

Most bosses like knowing their employees care about the organization. If you’re a team player and voice your arguments respectfully, you’re likely to find a much more receptive boss the next time you speak up.